As Published In

Oracle Magazine
July/August 2010

COMMENT: Analyst’s Corner

Infrastructure Software and Virtualization

By David Baum

Organizations improve flexibility with software appliances and templates.

Oracle Magazine spoke with Al Gillen, program vice president of system software at International Data Corporation (IDC), about how software appliances and virtualization technologies are transforming hardware and software infrastructures.

Oracle Magazine: What does virtualization mean to most IT professionals?

Gillen: Virtualization is the creation of a virtual rather than actual version of something, such as an operating system, server, storage device, or network resources. Since the introduction of virtualization software to the x86 server market, the industry has recognized the advantages of executing software in an environment separated from the underlying hardware resources. But there’s more to it than simply abstracting an operating system from the hardware it runs on. There are other benefits including flexibility, speed of deployment, availability, disaster recovery, and of course the ability to provision workloads to servers more efficiently.

Oracle Magazine: How have virtualization technologies changed over the years?

Gillen: For one thing, they have become less expensive. There are also a lot more players in the market now that the technologies have matured. However, in parallel, we are seeing the base virtualization technologies increasingly integrated into the core operating systems. Thus you no longer have to go out and buy virtualization as a standalone solution—although many customers continue to select best-of-breed products from multiple suppliers.

Oracle Magazine: How have these developments affected Oracle’s technology stack?

Gillen: We see Oracle working to leverage virtualization to simplify IT for customers. Take, for instance, Oracle’s work with templates to create software appliances. A software appliance is a preintegrated collection of software assets, which typically includes an operating system and some layer of functionality such as application software and a database. Traditionally, this collection of software components was installed and integrated by IT professionals or consultants at the customer’s deployment site. Oracle VM Templates take all those components and integrate them into a single virtual machine that can be installed on a hypervisor and literally turned on. Templates and software appliances can also be prepackaged with hardware, which gives customers a fully integrated solution that can be put to work right away. With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle now has all the software and hardware components it needs to put solutions together in a template form based on Linux, Oracle Solaris on x86, and SPARC architectures. This is a good example for how virtualization can be a tool for simplification.

Oracle Magazine: What are the advantages to packaging up hardware and software functionality in this way?

Gillen: Customers obtain a one-stop shop for acquiring their software stack and support. A single company handles the integration, regression testing, impact analysis, and so forth on all the layers.

Oracle Magazine: What changes do you see in the virtualization landscape over the next three to five years? 

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Gillen: Despite all the hype about virtualization, the penetration of these technologies is less than 20 percent on the installed base of servers across the industry. Customer use of virtualization is growing as existing installed-base systems are turned over, but customers typically replace their server platforms every three to five years and deploy new operating systems and a virtualized infrastructure during those refresh cycles. So you can look at the next five years as a likely time during which virtualization technologies will become more prevalent.

Oracle Magazine: What skill sets do IT professionals need for a virtualized infrastructure?

Gillen: Systems management is important and goes hand in hand with virtualization, because virtualization does not simplify management—it complicates it. System administrators must be aware of the business requirements and expected service levels of each application. That’s easier to do when each application resides on its own server. Ironically, virtualization often makes more servers more—rather than less—business critical. We now have capable management software tools that can automate provisioning decisions, but administrators also need to change their thinking about how the resources fit together. You’re doing yourself a disservice by virtualizing without first addressing these management issues.


David Baum ( is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

IDC ( ) is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.

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