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VMware performance, capacity, scalability improvements pave way for mission-critical apps

Improvements in VMware performance, scalability and capacity are leading enterprises to run more and more of their mission-critical applications on the platform.

When VMware vSphere 5—which became generally available Friday—launched in July, VMware executives said that they expected at least half of the mission-critical workloads in their customers’ data centers to be running on virtualized servers this year. And, they plan to increase that number by 10 percent a year. 

The company’s executives are counting on improvements in vSphere 5—including storage management enhancements—to push the adoption needle faster. Experts and enterprise customers agree that the barriers to using virtualization for mission-critical apps, such as VMware performance, scalability and capacity, have been overcome, although users still need the proper storage, servers and networking to make it feasible.

VMware research shows that 40% of mission-critical workloads had been virtualized by the end of 2010, and the company expects to reach the 50% mark by the end of 2011. According to two recent VMware customer surveys, one conducted in January 2010 and the other in April 2011, Microsoft SharePoint is the most common business-critical application running on VMware.

The survey respondents reported running two-thirds of SharePoint instances on VMware in April 2011, up from 53% in January 2010. Microsoft SQL was next at 47% in April, followed by Microsoft Exchange (42%), Oracle middleware (34%), and Oracle Database and SAP (28% each). But the adoption rate has risen slowly in some cases. Only SharePoint and SAP jumped 10 percentage points or more from January 2010 to April 2011. Oracle Database, SQL and Exchange went up 4 percentage points or less.

Despite the lower adoption rates for some enterprise applications, Gary Chen, research manager for IDC’s Enterprise Virtualization Software, said of VMware for the enterprise, “It’s ready at this point.” IDC forecasts that 65% to 70% of all workloads will be virtualized by 2013. Chen said he can see penetration getting to 80% eventually, with most of the nonvirtualized loads involving mainframes or Unix.

“Nothing in the world could ever be virtualized 100%. What about mainframes, or Unix? It will just live out its life in whatever form it’s in. It’s hard for things to get past 85%,” Chen said. But “virtualization’s grown up a lot in the past five [to] 10 years,” he said.

Many of the VMware performance, capacity and scalability issues have been overcome, according to Eric Siebert, a former senior systems administrator and VMware expert who recently joined Hewlett-Packard as solutions manager, storage for server virtualization.

“[The] performance of VMs running on virtualization is now equal [to] or even greater than performance running on physical platforms,” Siebert said. “Scalability has been increased as well, and the maximum resource configurations for VMs have been greatly increased to the point that scalability should never be an issue now.”

Now that the hypervisors and hardware have improved, the barriers potential users are putting up are not technical, but psychological, said Mike Laverick, a UK-based VMware certified professional and frequent contributor to TechTarget websites.

“When virtualization first got started, the power of the virtual machine was quite limited,” Laverick said. “Now, it’s standard for x64 and x86 servers. It’s more feasible. Now we’re in a perfect storm kind of moment, and people have put up [political and psychological] barriers.”

Almost all companies are implementing some kind of server virtualization. Virtual machine backup specialist Veeam Software’s second-quarter 2011 V-index survey, based on a sample of 544 large-scale enterprises, showed about 92% of enterprises have implemented virtualization in some form. Thirty-nine percent of all servers were virtual in the organizations surveyed.

“The more comfortable [companies] get with [server virtualization], the better the chances that they will shift from virtualizing their low-hanging fruit and less critical VMs to virtualizing their more critical VMs,” Siebert said.

Mazda North American Operations, based in Irvine, Calif., put its SAP application on VMware vSphere-based servers last year, after building an infrastructure specifically for virtualization consisting of Compellent (now Dell) storage, Dell PowerEdge R710 servers and 10 Gigabit Ethernet Cisco switches. The automaker has since virtualized its IBM DB2 Universal Database and Microsoft SQL and SharePoint servers.

“Before vSphere 4, VMware never sold that to us as being the type of environment where you can do high-speed, high-transactional databases,” said Barry Blakeley, infrastructure architect at Mazda. “When 4.0 came out, VMware said we can virtualize databases, and we took them at their word.

“We planned the virtualization of our SAP environment on the idea that VMware’s performance numbers were correct. But we wanted to make sure we had the right servers, the right storage and the right network. We wanted to make sure we had the right solution that would meet the I/O needs. We wanted to avoid running into disk or I/O bottlenecks. SAP was a very high profile application, and success was critical for that project.”

Blakeley said the results were better than expected. He said “depending on the transaction,” performance increased from 80% to 400% compared with when Mazda ran SAP on physical servers.

Senior News Director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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