Profile: Virtutech Takes Virtualization to the Next Level
According to Virtutech, today's technology only scratches the surface of what system virtualization offers IT professionals.
- By Peter Varhol
Thanks to the efforts of companies such as Microsoft and VMware (which is now a part of EMC Corporation), the industry thinks it understands the capabilities of virtualization. But according to John Lambert, CEO of Virtutech Inc., today's technology just scratches the surface of what is possible. And he believes that his company will be at the forefront in extending the reach of virtualization.
Virtutech was founded on the concept of virtualizing entire systems so that software can be developed on the most effective platform possible. Virtual software gives the appearance of being an actual hardware platform to an operating system (OS) or application. If actual hardware is not available, then virtual hardware is the only mechanism for developing the application software that's used by the system. As Lambert explains, "It lets application developers not only write, but actually finalize, their software even before the hardware device is ready."
The company has origins in academia and still possesses an academic flair to its environment. Virtutech Simics grew out of academic research at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SiCS), and as a company, it put great value in having a good relationship with academia around the world.
In addition, most of the board members and senior management have graduate technical degrees, and many have performed research or teaching duties in universities. The most notable of these board members is Peter Magnusson, who founded the company 1998. Magnusson has conducted research in simulation technology at the SiCS since 1991, with a number of international publications in the field.
The Role of Virtualization
Virtualization plays an important role in IT today. IT professionals believe that virtualization is a way for IT to take advantage of excessive system horsepower, and to preserve different operating environments for different applications. By using a clean OS with an individual application, you avoid the problem of interacting applications and patches running on the same system. Instead, you can run, for example, three applications on three separate virtualized servers, and preserve the purity of each environment.
Virtualization can also be used in the software development process. By maintaining multiple system configurations on development and test computers, developers and testers can more quickly and easily ensure that code runs on different OS and application combinations. You no longer need to have a testing lab full of dozens of different systems, each one with a slightly different configuration.
But for Virtutech, multiple OSs and system configurations is just a starting point. Because with a virtual system that runs a real OS, you can do more than simply execute this virtualization. You can also manipulate it. You can run it more slowly or manipulate system resources to perform a variety of sensitivity analyses.
For example, one of the most difficult problems a developer faces is debugging a race condition on a system with multiple processor cores. You write a threaded application in which different threads are designed to run on different CPU cores. In the course of debugging, you come across an application crash that seems to occur almost randomly, even in different parts of the code.
To help solve this problem, you might run multiprocessor and multicore application software on a simulated processor and operating system platform. On a simulated platform, you can do a debug build and engage the debugger. Then you can let the application run until the crash and back up the execution of the simulator—watching thread activity and variable values on different cores as you would normally in the debugger, except in reverse. Once you've established that a race condition exists, you can speed up one of the processors until it disappears, confirming the condition and getting a better idea of the timing involved.
With an almost unlimited ability to manipulate the virtual environment, IT professionals can perform a variety of "what-if" scenarios, including taking out selected parts of the infrastructure to simulate system failure, double the system performance to determine if upgrades are in order, or juggle response times to determine if users are being adequately served.
Virtutech makes the majority of its revenue from embedded systems. The company's at an advantage in being in this market. Systems are difficult to debug and build, and have a wide combination of both processors and operating systems. It is likely that the hardware component of an embedded device is not ready until late in the development cycle. Because time-to-market is so critical for many embedded devices, virtualization improves the ability to predict the actual product schedule.
But the focus is changing away from embedded systems. The greatest potential for virtual systems across the application life cycle is in the enterprise. Virtualization is already used in many production environments to create unique server environments across systems. Lambert sees virtualization as a way to simplify the entire application life cycle. He said, "By virtualizing environments that are giving us problems, we can manipulate them in ways that are not possible with the actual hardware."
Virtutech might also have one of the most unique logos of any technology company: a symbol of the Möbius Butterfly. It's both an infinite loop, a Möbius strip, a duel-colored abstract shape representing the interaction that occurs when software meets hardware—in this case the virtual meeting the real—and the butterfly, the ultimate freedom through metamorphosis from the bounds of gravity.
Lambert and Virtutech believe that the era of virtualization has just begun, and this technology will mean significantly more than it does today. By inserting virtual hardware into every aspect of the application life cycle, it is possible that many of the problems that vex developers, testers, and IT professionals may become much simpler to solve.
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Peter Varhol is a principal at Technology Strategy Research LLC, an industry analysis and consulting firm.