January 11, 2011

Virtualizing UC

  • Reaping the Benefits and Understanding the Issues for Real-Time Communications
  • Abner Germanow and Jonathan Edwards, IDC
  • On behalf of Avaya
Unified communications (UC) as an industry term is an apt description of the convergence in communications applications that will be deployed in the enterprise as new investments are made. UC is enabled through IP communications and therefore resides on (or has dedicated hooks into) the datacenter. The effort to centralize UC is happening alongside an increasingly common datacenter technique known as virtualization. Virtualization is essentially a piece of software that when installed on a server, tricks each application -- which in the past may have required its own dedicated server(s) -- into thinking it's running on its own hardware. In reality, each application is running on a partitioned portion of the server (known as a virtual machine or VM).

Because most workloads today run at low utilization rates on servers (10% is normal), server consolidation has been a primary driver for virtualization adoption. By grouping several workloads on a single server, each on its own VM, higher, more efficient utilization can be achieved while still allocating sufficient resources to execute each workload. Virtualization can improve utilization rates to as high as 60-70%. Theoretically these rates could be improved upon even further if companies were willing to go beyond a 6-7:1 application-to-server ratio. Today most companies remain cautious, however.

From a management perspective, virtualization allows IT staffs to manage serverbased applications independent of the hardware on which they reside. Management benefits include application provisioning, maintenance, high-availability guarantees, and disaster recovery. Virtualization also allows physical servers to run multiple operating systems (OS).

Virtualization and UC application migration onto the datacenter are happening side by side and create an interesting and challenging dilemma. Virtualization today is primarily being applied to traditional server-based applications with flexible minimum response times, low utilization rates, and low input/output requirements (e.g., CPU and database access). The requirements are quite the opposite for real-time communications where application delay is not permitted. A disadvantage of virtualization has been that application efficiencies (e.g., application request to databases or CPU resources) can be lost as the VM accesses the hardware indirectly. The question becomes: Can virtualization support real-time communications?

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1 Comment

This independent paper by IDC does a great job of looking at the possibilities (and realities) of moving aspects of Unified Communications onto a virtualized platform. The can be particularly challenging because of the demands - from both network and computing perspectives - of real-time communications.

The latter part of the paper looks at Avaya's specific solutions, but it's a super benchmark regardless of your exact choice of provider.

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