Virtualization As a State of Mind


By Tony Kontzer

I've had a lot of IT folks over the years tell me that virtualization isn't just a technology; it's a state of mind. Well, after getting a tour this week of San Jose International Airport and its $1.3 billion in new construction and updates, I can safely say I've seen the virtualization infrastructure model taken to its logical extent. That's because the airport's gleaming technology backbone--which echoes its gleaming terminal building--expands on the idea of a virtualized data center.

Look at it this way: whereas companies use virtualization to get the greatest possible utilization out of their servers, San Jose International has taken a shared resources approach to get the most utilization out of the whole facility. Ticket counters no longer are leased by airlines and equipped with each airline's technology. Instead, every station is equipped with what is essentially a virtualized desktop that allows any airline's employees to log into their own IT systems. Boarding gates have similarly "dumbed-down" computers that connect into the IT system of whichever airline happens to be using that station at any given time.

The idea, says the airport's communications director, David Vossbrink, is to improve the efficiency of airport facilities by allowing gates and counters to be assigned fluidly as the ebb and flow of passengers progresses throughout the day. And, in the case of the shared boarding gates, it's hoped this will put an end to the unhappy days of passengers stuck in aircraft on the tarmac until an airline's proprietary gates become available for deplaning.

Here's why this should resonate with IT decision-makers: The innovation inherent in a technology such as virtualization can be extrapolated and applied on a larger basis. Every CIO who has overseen a virtualization implementation needs to be aware that virtualized servers are an analogy for things that can be accomplished on a grand scale to make the best use of other limited resources. For airlines, that means being able to prevent counters and gates from sitting unnecessarily unused. And a similar application could, for example, help a movie multiplex fill more of its seats by letting it re-assign theaters to accommodate overflow for the latest box office smash, rather than screen less popular films to near-empty rooms.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that distinguishes those CIOs who only worry about their IT fiefdoms from those who consider the larger needs of the business. In the case of San Jose International Airport, going with a shared resources model was a group decision made by airport leadership with input from the various Silicon Valley technology vendors that helped deploy the technology, one of whom was virtualization pioneer VMWare. Where the idea originated isn't important. What matters is that it was a logical business decision that will make the airport more flexible and efficient for years to come. And, if that isn't an example of extracting the most value out of IT, then I don't know what is.


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