Group looks into standards

A technology industry standards body is considering setting benchmarks for how virtualization should work in a computer network.

The Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC) is forming a group to discuss whether virtualization benchmarks are needed and, if so, set those benchmarks over an estimated three-month process.

“It seems like a number of our member companies have simultaneously agreed they are ready to move on it and form a working group,” said Walter Bays, president of SPEC. “All of them must have been hearing the same thing from their customers.”

SPEC is a nonprofit organization of top companies in the technology industry collaborating to establish impartial standards to measure the performance of various types of technology. SPEC has set benchmarks for servers, software applications, high performance computing systems, for example.

Virtualization is a growing field for improving the performance of data centres without having to add more servers. For instance, virtualization makes it possible to run several software applications, even based on different operating systems, on the same physical server.

Because many IT managers at companies are still learning what virtualization is, benchmarks would help educate them, said Bays. “It would actually increase the market for virtualization because it would reduce uncertainty about it for the buyers,” he said. “They would be better able to do comparison shopping.”

The virtualization market doesn’t seem to be hindered so far. VMware Inc., the subsidiary of storage vendor EMC Corp. that sells virtualization software, on Oct. 17 reported an 86 per cent growth in third quarter revenue to US$188.5 million, compared to the third quarter of 2005. The third quarter revenue, up 20 per cent from the second quarter, translates into an annual run rate of US$750 million, VMware said.

“Based on the adoption rate, benchmarking is not first and foremost in customers’ minds,” said Brian Byun, vice-president of global partners and solutions for VMware. Whether one virtualization software package runs five per cent or 10 per cent faster than another isn’t as important as the increased performance of virtualization versus non-virtualization, Byun said.

The lack of benchmarks isn’t preventing Advanced Micro Devices Inc. from touting the virtualization capabilities of its microprocessors.

“Virtualization is getting deployed. It’s beyond the test beds,” said Patrick Patla, director of server marketing. Still, he added, “We would love to have a benchmark.”

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