A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Monday, March 27, 2006

Virtualisation is king 

We are tinkering with virtualisation in Solution Delivery. For instance I have a PC that runs Windows XP, I run the absolutely jaw droppingly excellent vmware player with a fedora core 5 Linux appliance. Check out the appliance link for other appliances you can get, and be sure to look at the community page which is where I got the Fedora Core 5 appliance (Linux)

Our live platform is ColdFusion 5 on Windows talking to Oracle on Solaris. On the VMWARE virtual computer we almost have ColdFusion MX7 running in Linux supporting Economist.com and CFO.com. We have a few path problems that are beating us up a little right now. I would love to throw abuse at the person who decided that we needed things like c: instead of /c/, \c\ or something. Stupid stupid stupid idea.

Although in Windows Vista you can mount whole drives in subdirectories of c: for example. This doesn't sound too different from the subst command which places a directory as a drive, it just reverses it I guess. subst is how in development we fake having an e drive on the standard Economist build so we can run our application locally. That doesn't quite work yet either. Anyway, that's an offbeat rant.

Recently we've launched a Wiki for our processes and I think Mike is chasing up a Wiki for the group. Perhaps we have a contender on smarties, perhaps not, it looks quite plain but has a rich text editor which takes away the horrible {{LINK}} syntax that wikis hit us with. It still needs work to link to other Wiki pages without doing {{link}} but shows promise. This Wiki shouldn't be used right now to store IT processes or important docs as it's beta software and may trash your data but it shows promise.

We are also rolling out localized development environments to developer staff to move away form using a central development server and to embrace some powerful source control features. Subversion is our source control package of choice and is excellent when linked with TortoiseSVN which becomes part of Windows Explorer to give you an interface no different from the every day use interface on Windows. We need a NY based database before we can complete this but it's good progress.

But I started on virtualisation. I could see a server environment really working well with virtualisation. We have a development server that needs it's own space but is rarely using all it's memory or CPU cycles, why couldn't we share that out. The mail server probably isn't as busy outside of office hours, why can't it help do an extra task. Our IBM hosting environment has web servers that are also application servers and they can affect each other. The world needs to embrace running operating systems concurrently on the same hardware in the same way that an older generation of computing needed to embrace windows for applications. Business Systems are currently out looking for potential hosting partners for the web platform. I have a feeling it's important to have fibre across the pond and for extra capacity to be added quickly. Blades do this, however I think blades are similar to virtualisation. You have an image of an application and you roll it out quickly. I'm not sure where I'm going with this post so I'll stop but I think virtualisation could really help a small company like the Economist trim and stream line it's IT operations in a big way as well as give automatic redundancy. OK so I haven't stopped yet, so let's explore a possible option. Take a groupwise server, it might be possible to take the groupwise mail server and another machine that independently do their task and install both sets of software virtually on to both machines. If hardware fails on either machine both applications still run without the addition of hardware as they are virtualised. Additionally you can backup every virtualised computer appliance and roll it out on any hardware as the VMWARE client abstracts it from the hardware.

This stuff is genius genius genius. To prove the point I posted this post from a virtualised browser appliance that completely secures your browsing experience by running Firefox in a virtualised appliance.
Combining Open Source and virtualisation certainly opens the door to increasing resilience at no extra costs, but unfortunately the big boys charge license fees according to how many virtual machines their code runs on in most cases....
We are a small company, we don't have to use the big boys. Do we use the big boys just to tick the box for our customers to say that we have the big ticket support. Does support hold us back at times in the stuff we could do?
Well that depends on whether we need functionality that only they provide right now. Such as real time (not military real time) data replication, mirroring and other features that are missing from some Open Source apps.

I'd argue that as a small company we have more need to use supported products as we don't have the engineering capacity of a Google or a BBC.

It's a balance.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?