On Virtualization and The Cloud: The Most Ridiculous Article I've Read in a Very Long Time

By Caitlyn Martin
June 8, 2011 | Comments: 13

ZDNet publishes some wonderful articles and have some very talented and knowledgeable technically savvy writers. Having said that, they get the award for most ridiculous, the silliest, the most off base and seriously flawed article I've read in a very long time. In a piece published this morning called Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet, the author, Ken Hess, wrote a piece that ridicules and derides anyone who doesn't virtualize literally all, as in every last one, of their servers. No, I'm not exaggerating. Here is a particularly striking part of this gem of technical writing. It's the summary for the entire article, no less:

You'll need to keep some physical systems around for those workloads that can't go virtual. And, be sure to keep a horse and buggy around when that whole automobile thing doesn't work out too.
So, physical servers are as obsolete as the horse and buggy? Is that so? To emphasize the point the article features a photo of a dumpster diver pulling out old PC hardware. All our physical servers are nothing more than garbage to Mr. Hess.

Mr. Hess points out that he is a virtualization advocate. So am I. He says he is a Cloud advocate as well. That is one distinction we don't share. There is nothing new about the Cloud. Virtualization has been around for a very long time. Both have their places. I'd even say that they make more sense in more roles than ever before. They aren't a panacea, Ken. May I call you Ken? I mean, I must be on a first name basis with someone who obviously knows my business and my customers' business better than I do or they do. Nah... I'll stick with Mr. Hess. I don't want to seem too disrespectful, do I?

My little consulting firm supports mainly small and midsize businesses. For some of them virtualization is just an added layer of complexity. If they use VMWare, as you suggest, rather than Open Source solutions like KVM or Xen, it's an expensive layer of complexity too.

Virtualization is great for compartmentalizing applications and server functions. Let's say I have a LAMP stack with multiple domains hosted and rather complex websites. In that scenario it makes sense to consider virtualizing each domain rather than configuring them as virtual hosts within a single Apache configuration. It also makes sense to separate the database server from the web server. It may also make sense to separate distinct databases back-ending different sites. Virtualization is often the best way to do that in order to leverage the full power of a large and well provisioned server or cluster of servers. It makes each site, each database and each application easier to manage.

Even in the example I just gave, where I advocate virtualization to simplify the management of the web stack, there are costs. Virtualization always adds overhead which means it requires more powerful hardware than old fashioned physical servers for the same level of functionality. After all, each instance of the operating system, database and applications requires a certain amount of resources just to run at near idle. The additional server resources cost, whether they are on physical machines in a corporate server room or rented off in the Cloud.

Speaking of cost, refreshing the hardware regularly is often cheaper than renting it off in the Cloud when you take depreciation into account. Keeping physical servers around doesn't mean maintaining old junk as the article claims.

Let's take a look at Cloud based solutions for a moment. What Richard Stallman warns people about the Cloud for the desktop applies even more so to servers. My readers know I often disagree with RMS but in this case he gets it absolutely right. Here is a case in point: a former client decided they didn't need physical web servers anymore and moved everything to Amazon and their Cloud, all nicely virtualized, against my advice and the advice of the other consultants involved. Guess when that happened? Were they hit when Amazon lost oodles and bunches of customer data? You bet they were. It also is more expensive than just keeping the very nice physical cluster they had.

We all know that Cloud providers are all brilliant when it comes to security and keep all your data safe, don't we? We know that a certain Cloud provider whose main business is really data mining would never, ever mine your confidential data in their Cloud, right? I mean we are all certain that we can really trust them no matter what. None of the Cloud providers ever get hacked, do they Mr. Cloud virtualization advocate? Your customers' credit card and financial data is always safe with them.

If you don't mean the Cloud then you must mean do-it-yourself virtualization. All those nice virtual servers have to run on physical hardware at some level as well, Mr. Hess.

Keeping all that in mind, why should a specialty retailer who is a client of mine with just a single website on a physical server virtualize? What would it do for them other than robbing CPU cycles and memory from their critical apps? I recommended virtualizing their development environment to isolate it from production at a relatively low cost, which they did. I did not and do not see value in virtualizing the production environment. It's too simple to need to be compartmentalized and broken down. There just isn't any real benefit to doing it.

Yes, I am a virtualization advocate. I heartily recommend KVM to my clients. Now that the last patches for Xen are being incorporated into the mainline kernel if the enterprise Linux vendors support that I will recommend it as well. It's actually more mature than KVM and the paravirtualization features are really slick.

I recommend my customers do a real cost/benefit analysis before jumping on any new, hot technology bandwagon. How will it benefit the business? What will it cost? What, if anything, will it add to the bottom line? How long will it take for the business to see a return on the investment? How will the change impact security? That's how real, sensible companies should make business decisions. Just because some know-it-all tech writer is all hot and bothered about virtualization and makes fun of physical servers is not a rational reason to make any decisions. Not only is your article not humorous, Mr. Hess, but it is seriously misguided. Virtualization is not a panacea and physical servers will have their place for a very, very long time to come.


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13 Comments

As informative and true as your post may be... it isn't controversial and provocative enough to garner nearly as many hits as the article by Mr. Hess... Such is the pity when it comes to news (via traditional media or the Internet)...


:/

You're right, of course. The problem is that the fact that ZDNet carried it gives it some weight. Some people will take it seriously which is why I decided I couldn't just let it pass.

don't get upset :) it's the guy's gig to promote the thing. he doesn't really mean it, or care about it :)

Yes, I read a couple of articles by the guy. First singing the praise for the iCloud and bashing the ignorants who don't understand what a favour is done to them by allowing them to offer their data to be held hostage on some remote servers. Now about virtualization.

He seems to be the new Laura DiDio.

Thanks for cooling the spin doctor's rhetoric - we need common sense applied to reflect on hype. Much appreciated.

@neil
True, it is in the interests of these monolithic corporations to make us as ignorant as possible, with the attention span of a Nat, so we are incapable of knowing to concentrate in order to learn the truth. This makes us dependent on them, and thus ensures their survival.

@istok
In order to see through the sponsored lies, such as this guys gig, people must first be aware that it is lies. People less knowing than you might well "believe" him, unless someone like Caitlyn Martin takes the time to spread the truth.

Just as corporations are spreading lies through people like Mr Hess, Caitlyn Martin is spreading truth. Their needs to be a balance.

Caitlyn, Nice article ;)

You guys are hilarious, especially the part where you say, "Keeping all that in mind, why should a specialty retailer who is a client of mine with just a single website on a physical server virtualize?"

You don't advise your client to use a hosted service for this? Websites are cheap and so are VPSs. Look into them.

I know that virtual machines run on physical hardware. I'm obviously talking about regular systems, i.e. non VM host systems. And, no the Cloud isn't anything new, does that make it bad?

Ken, I'm afraid I don't see the humor in your articles. You give seriously bad advice and unfortunately sometimes the blind do get to lead the blind. Many of your previous articles have been ridiculed throughout the tech community. I even remember you showing up on LXer.com to ridicule those who disagreed with you and making yourself look even more ridiculous. You do have a track record.

To answer your specific questions: The retail client I referred to was on a VPS solution and migrated away from it to a physical server. That ended the outages they experienced due to the shared environment and reduced their costs. They also have now migrated the dev environment to another physical server. It turns out the monthly cost of a VPS that had the system requirements their developers need was higher than leasing another physical server. Virtualization for them is simply not cost effective and adds a layer of complexity they do not need. I know you love virtualization but geez, Ken, doesn't cost figure into it for you at all? It does for everyone else on the planet.

Is the Cloud bad? Did you read my comments regarding the horrendous security record of some of the major Cloud providers? How about the issue of having your confidential data mined? Hmmm... I'd call that bad. When you control your company's environment you also control security. To most enterprise clients that is simply huge.

I'll be having an article on the dangers of the Cloud shortly. Watch this space.

Caitlyn,

If a VPS didn't work, someone did something wrong. I've been in an enterprise web hosting environment for 6 years. All said, though, I'm glad I'm giving you fodder for your articles. ;-)

I'm concerned with cost. Don't forget that I'm The Frugal Networker and I do the Frugal Tech Show with Jason Perlow. Cost is important but virtual servers a la providers like 1and1.com are very inexpensive and perform extremely well. They use Parallels for those. Parallels is like zones or BSD jails. They do the same for Windows too. Exciting stuff.

As for cloud security, they (cloud providers) have a good track record, if you really look at the numbers. Kind of like air travel being very safe but when one comes down, it's usually very, very bad. Banks get robbed every day but no one is saying, "take your money out of the banks."

But, I like having you as an adversary. Iron sharpening iron, you know?

Once again you make assumptions about my client without knowing their business, their applications or any of their needs. A VPS solution with adequate horsepower for them would not be inexpensive. They shopped around long before I got there and decided a leased server was more cost effective and I agree. Oh, and no, I don't share details of what my customers do.

What you don't seem to get is there is no such thing as a one size fits all IT solution. VPS is not the right answer for all hosting. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not anti-VPS or anti-virtualization. I use VPS solutions for my websites but my needs are relatively simple.

Cloud providers do not have a good track record compared with a well managed, private system following best practices. The problem with Cloud security is that you have no control over it whatsoever. It is completely out of the hands of the company.

I have a customer who has been with me since I first launched NetFerrets back in 1998. Even when I was working corporate jobs I kept their business by moonlighting because back then they were small (they aren't anymore) and their needs were simple. I put in their first firewall way back when. Guess how many security incidents they have had since then? None at all. Oh, they've logged countless attempts to break in. For reasons I won't go into here they are a prime target. However, with proper security controls so far they've kept the bad guys out. No security is perfect but I don't believe that any Cloud provider, based on that record you are touting, offers them anywhere near the level of security they are accustomed to.

You have an agenda and you push that agenda no matter what, even when it doesn't match the interests of businesses. You can do that as a writer. Some of us have to live in the real world.

I do live in the real world. You've failed to read what I've written about what I do. I'm not a writer who simply writes on tech topics, I'm a technical person who writes. There's a difference. And, FYI, you're still responsible for your own security in the cloud. They don't protect what's basically your very own server. Spin up an Amazon image and install patches, security, etc. that you need. I live in a world that's very real.

Touchy, aren't we? Have I struck a nerve?

No, I have not failed to read what you do. I have commented on your writing which ignores the realities of my customers' needs and tries to shoehorn everyone into one-size-fits-all solutions which really do not fit.

Yes, I know you are responsible for your individual server security in the Cloud. That really helped Amazon's customers when Amazon lost their data, didn't it? You control the virtual server security but not the security of the overall infrastructure. That you have absolutely no control over whatsoever as I previously stated. That's a fact you simply cannot refute.

I love this article.

You are saying much of what I've been shouting to the wind for a couple years now. The "Cloud" is nothing more than an over-hyped name for abstracted virtualized hosting with insufficient security and mushy SLAs. The fact that all of these gurus have sold so many companies on "The Cloud™" as "The Solution™" for all of their computing needs without taking into account their actual *business model* (and corresponding compute requirements) means nothing to them. They get their fee regardless, and the poor sysadmins that get hired in their wake to "just make it work like the guy said it should" have to live with the pain.

I actually have shied away from working for companies who put "everything" on the cloud - I think they are a bit nuts. If you don't have at least a backup desktop with a fat disk or three to bootstrap your IP/application/core data from, you are daft, IMO. You really shouldn't bet your business entirely on one other company's business model.

I have a few less complimentary posts on the subject in my own blog at http://blog.laubenheimer.net/

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