Open source virtualisation: Should you try it?

Open source virtualisation has its fans across the Atlantic. Will it gain traction in the UK?

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Virtualisation is unarguably one of the biggest trends of the past few years, and open source software has been on the IT radar for a while now. So does that make open source virtualisation twice as much of a good thing?

At least some corporate IT departments think so. They're turning to open source software as part of their virtualisation mix. Sure, savings are a big factor, but so is the ability to tweak the software to suit specific requirements.

Just ask Stan Yazhemsky, manager of IT operations at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), which uses Citrix's XenServer, a management tool running on the open source Xen hypervisor.

XenServer's open APIs give him and his team of three Linux engineers better access to and control of advanced functions, especially security, Yazhemsky says.

LAO, a non profit corporation that provides legal advice and services to low-income individuals, has 200 locations across Ontario and hosts three data centres. Those data centres house 239 Windows servers and 68 Linux servers. Some 95% of LAO's servers are running XenServer.

LAO has 154 terabytes of sensitive data such as client/lawyer information, financial files and individual case loads that span everything from burglaries to theft and murder. Security is a key concern.

"If an attack manages to break into the system, our embedded script will shut down the compromised virtual machine immediately and bring another virtual machine up, in real time with no effect on users. That's something that you can't get from any closed source solution," Yazhemsky says.

As a result, the organisation is able to invest less in security than it would otherwise have to, he says. His calculation is that LAO spends about 40% less in security software and management costs than it would have otherwise, "because we can script events that proactively search for any changes," Yazhemsky says.

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