CATS Goes Virtual (for real)

I think most of us remember the old Coca-Cola commercial: The guy with the clefted chin who was supposed to be some sort of virtual talk show host. Jolting and skipping, telling us why Coke is the best. Hardware virtualization is nothing like Max Headroom. There are no psychedelic swirls in the background, no futuristic computer voices like the Joshua machine from War Games. In fact it is all very silent with no stunning visual effects. The server still looks like a metal box, the processor still looks like a chip and the software still does the same job. What’s different is that multiple operating systems can now access the same hardware simultaneously. In short this means higher performance for less money.

The demand for virtualization has come from something called Moore’s Law. It explains that computer processing capabilities are growing exponentially while most software’s ability to utilize this power is not. A typical computer only uses about 15% of the available  processing power, yet the machine itself still uses the same amount of electricity and takes up space in the data center. It is like having a tanker truck that can hold 10,000 pounds of cement but you only have 5 pounds to put in it. It still costs a lot of money to keep the truck running and it takes up a lot of space on the lot. It is being completely underutilized. The cost of maintaining the nearly empty truck is the same as if it was running at full capacity.

What virtualization does is allow a server to run multiple operating systems on one set of hardware. Each OS then controls multiple software applications and their access to the hardware – multiple, virtual computers working in one box! Now you can work your processor and other hardware at 80-90% without running up your electric bill, renting more space in the data center or hiring another System Administrator to maintain multiple servers. This saves money in several areas, increases system performance and creates more fail-safes.

The best analogy I found was posted by Mike Laverick in his response to an article on Expert Data Labs Blog. He describes virtualization as a hotel. The old hotel has a full staff and all the amenities yet only one room with one guest. Even if the guest is out, or sleeping, the entire staff has to be on stand by, ready to serve at the drop of a hat. The hotel’s costs are running rampant and none of the services are being used. A new hotel gets built that has multiple rooms to host many guests. All of the guests can take advantage of the hotel’s accommodations without running in to each other. In fact, they wouldn’t even know there were other guests staying at the same hotel. Everyone would have what they needed and the hotel would actually save money by running more efficiently with less waste. Mike’s explanation goes in to more depth and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking to understand the basic idea of virtualization.

How Does This Help CATS and CATS Users?

By implementing hardware virtualization here at CATS Software Inc. we are lowering operating costs in a number of ways. First off, by having one physical server do the work of 5 we are dropping our electric bill dramatically. It’s like having the processing power of 5 server boxes but the electricity consumption of one. By having fewer physical servers we are also saving money at the data center where we store our servers. Rent is high and space is becoming a more opulent commodity. It is estimated that over 25 exabytes (25 million terabytes, 25,600,000,000 gigabytes) of data is being stored in this nation by government and corporations. Consolidation is a major driver for organizations to go virtual.

Multiple operating systems running simultaneously provides more data and system security too. If one OS goes down, the others continue working as if nothing happened. We don’t have to rely on a separate box to carry the load of the one that went down while keeping up on all of its own tasks. Not only will this help keep the system accessible and run times up, but it adds performance speed as well now that the hardware inside the server is being used at its full potential. Virtualization allows us to offer more, for less.

Our development team even has virtual machines installed on their laptops. This allows them to run Windows and Leopard on a Mac simultaneously. Unlike dual booting where you have to choose which OS to use at start up, this enables them to test and check every update they make on all the systems our customers use. Instead of having one Mac laptop for coding and a separate Windows laptop for testing, they can write and test instantly on the same laptop.

Virtualization allows us to cut costs on energy, storage, maintenance and time, which allows us to continue to offer an affordable system with increased performance. Everybody wins!