Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BENE­DICT KELLY

THE PHRASE vir­tual has been taken over by the com­put­ing es­tab­lish­ment, with the term vir­tual re­al­ity now part of ev­ery­day vo­cab­u­lary.

How­ever, there’s a new type of vir­tual buzz­word that’s sweep­ing the tech­nol­ogy arena spurred on by tech­nol­ogy ven­dors such as In­tel and AMD and the mas­sive power that their pro­ces­sors now have and that is Vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion.

Vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion refers to run­ning one op­er­at­ing sys­tem inside an­other. So if you had a com­puter run­ning Win­dows XP and you wanted to mess around with Linux (or test an ap­pli­ca­tion run­ning un­der Linux) you could fire up some vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion soft­ware and in­stall and run a ver­sion of Linux inside Win­dows.

How­ever, vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion will go a step fur­ther if new de­vel­op­ments are any­thing to go by. In­stead of hav­ing to use a host op­er­at­ing sys­tem, such as Win­dows XP, and a guest op­er­at­ing sys­tem such as Linux, vir­tu­alised sys­tems will have a spe­cial type of soft­ware, known as a hy­per­vi­sor.

The hy­per­vi­sor is like a very light op­er­at­ing sys­tem, with only one real func­tion, to al­low many other op­er­at­ing sys­tems to ac­cess the phys­i­cal com­puter at any time.

Imag­ine it as the nurs­ery school teacher in charge of a lim­ited set of toys (things like the abil­ity to ac­cess the com­puter’s CPU, me­mory or read­ing and writ­ing from the hard drive) and it has any num­ber of petu­lant chil­dren all want­ing to play with the toys at the same time. The hy­per­vi­sor en­sures that not only do all the chil­dren get to play with the toys, it fools each one of them into be­liev­ing that he/she is the only child in the school.

This is be­cause each op­er­at­ing sys­tem wants exclusive use of the com­puter and doesn’t want to share it with any other.

How­ever, in the data cen­tres that power the world’s cor­po­rates, gov­ern­ments and the In­ter­net the ap­pli­ca­tion is very dif­fer­ent.

With vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion the sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tors cre­ate a vir­tual pool of all the com­put­ing power in the com­pany and al­lo­cate it de­pend­ing on what ap­pli­ca­tion needs the power at any given time.

Al­though there are hun­dreds of com­put­ers phys­i­cally, it’s pos­si­ble to fool the op­er­at­ing sys­tem into be­liev­ing that there’s only one very pow­er­ful com­puter. This makes man­ag­ing th­ese com­put­ers much eas­ier.

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