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Why You Should Embrace Virtualization

August 31, 2015 No Comments

 Featured article by Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies

Virtualization touches all of the main corporate technology disciplines, from networking to cloud computing, and is therefore a crucial skill for IT practitioners. The latest trend powered by virtualization is “software-defined everything,” which in turn is challenging IT practitioners to adopt new software-related skills, such as scripting, packaging, and API programming. Ultimately, embracing virtualization is about so much more than understanding virtual machines and if an IT practitioner fails to grasp this industry’s evolution, and adapt, then they potentially risk facing a challenging future in the technology industry.

Virtualization Is Everywhere

Virtualization is older than the newest of IT practitioners. It’s a half-century-old concept, starting life in 1964 at IBM as a niche feature of large and expensive mainframes. In the late 1990s, VMware brought the concept out of the mainframe and to the masses via inexpensive Intel x86 servers. Helping Intel win the data center war along the way, and turning IBM into a niche player.

Virtualization has since moved beyond virtual machines and is now pervasive across the data center – embedded into virtual networks, virtual storage systems, and virtual appliances. All adding up to make what is now called the software-defined data center.

Virtualization Is Changing Everything

Virtualization has impacted both infrastructure and software vendors because customers now want to buy their product as virtual bits, not in atoms. And it may be that they just want to rent it and “pay-as-you-go” instead of a large, multi-year, capital-expenditure contract. This change is not a technology fad: large, established companies such as 122-year old Royal Philips have transformed their business and all of their suppliers to flexible contracts so they can benefit from innovation, which also requires that its IT practitioners constantly adapt.

Virtual Appliances Spawn New Industries

Firewalls used to always be big, hardware devices at the edge of your physical network but now they come packaged as virtual appliances placed inside your network, close to your applications. In web-scale companies like Yahoo, it’s infeasible to use physical devices at web-scale anymore; the answer instead has to be many small virtual appliances. So now the security industry is being disrupted by companies like vArmour that sells virtualized, software-defined, distributed security systems.

The same applies to load balancers and other network services, and virtualization in the network has spawned new categories, such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), which have transformed the technology and operational models of global telecoms companies. They have even formed a foundation to collaborate on network virtualization called the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

The storage industry is also being heavily disrupted by virtualization, as storage controllers move from physical storage “heads” into virtual machines. Again, spawning a whole new industry called hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), which has transformed the strategy of industry behemoths such as EMC.

Virtualization’s Impact on the IT Practitioner

The days of racking and stacking in a cold, lonely data center are being replaced by activities such as API programming, moving attention away from the physical to the virtual and the software. Successful IT practitioners are adapting along this trajectory, as they adapt to the industry changes.

Corporate IT functions have moved into virtual software and programmatic control interfaces (APIs) that separate the control plane from the data plane – this has become the de facto way of working for many. For example, in software-defined networks, the practitioner controls one virtual controller that tells twenty switches what to do – instead of the practitioner logging in to twenty switches at a time and maintaining twenty configurations. In virtual storage systems, a special virtual machine is distributed to all hosts and a separate, central control plane controls all these virtual appliances.

This means the IT practitioners of today, who can see the future coming, are learning new skills in programming languages and configuration systems such as Puppet. The new IT practitioner understands the importance of APIs and leans more towards the development side of the house in the age of DevOps. Handily, a lot of these skills can be learned online for free from sites such as Codeacademy and Khanacademy, but field experience is highly valued and the best IT practitioners chase opportunities in software-defined systems.

What Should IT Practitioners Do to Embrace Virtualization?

Firstly, they need to understand how virtualization is now so embedded in the corporate data center. Then there is the need to adapt, seeking new skills and new experiences that align with the prevailing trends of software-defined everything. For example, old methods of working such as static documentation – think Microsoft Visio, Word, and Excel – are giving way to new collaboration systems from Atlassian, Github, and others.

Finally, if practitioners aren’t skilled in virtualization, if they don’t know how to manage virtual appliances, and if they can’t interact with teams and the systems that fully embrace virtualization, then they’ll be destined to remain an old-fashioned, legacy IT practitioner that missed the technology-transformation train – where employment and advancement options will shrink as technology change continues at pace.


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