It is 2009 and, to my disappointment, we're still not able to press a button on our briefcase or, to be more realistic, our laptop backpack, and see it turn into our flying car. But the good news is that we're seeing adoption of a technology that may free up enough of our time to develop that backpack.

Everywhere we look in the tech sector, there's talk about how hot virtualization is and will continue to be this year. During the current economic crisis, we all must summon up our creative juices to meet these tough times. One of the best ways to do so is to employ free hypervisors. With budget cuts slashing IT staff and projects while management and customers demand better uptime and lower risk, these free hypervisors may be the panacea. Take a look around your data center. Perhaps there is a Microsoft Exchange email server or SQL Server machine running at 5 percent utilization. Why not use that server as a virtual host and run multiple applications on it?

Free Hypervisors Get You Started on Virtualization
Let’s go over some free hypervisor products that you can download and use in your environment. Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, and Citrix XenServer are free hypervisors. These free tools could in fact save your job or one of your co-workers' jobs in such an economy. Upper management is still being tasked to move critical business-driven projects ahead, but they're being told they need to do so with less capital. The glaring expense that will be cut first is staff that's deemed as unnecessary or at least expendable to make room for the new hardware and software for the critical projects.

Granted, these free hypervisors provide only the most basic features of the vendors' enterprise offerings. Think of the free sample dish in your favorite chocolate store here. Sure, once you take the small bite you want the entire bar of chocolate—but it does allow us to get a taste for it, yes? The beauty of these tools is we can use them to build virtual environments at little to no cost, and when the economy does turn around, we'll have the option to gain the features of the enterprise set without having to go back and re-create the entire environment.

Keep the Business Moving Forward
The goal here is to get the software up and running so we can keep driving the business forward without taking three steps back in a staffing level. Those new servers that the critical applications need are simply built with existing hardware. This solution speaks volumes to management: They know that the business needs to keep moving forward and that no person is larger than the business, but they also know when they have a solid team and really don’t want to rip it apart.

The idea of server consolidation and/or containment is well known, but what most IT shops don't grasp is the ease of management of their newfound best friend. It's not uncommon to hear things like, "Look how fast the Windows server boots!" or "It only took me an hour to fully configure a web server from the ground up, I mean loading the operating system and all."

Once the staff realizes the true power and ease of maintenance of the virtual platform, it becomes very easy to convince upper management that it's the right thing to do. All the software vendors provide ROI/TCO calculators on their websites to help us develop our business case and convince the executives. Sometimes the ROI is so great that we see the project get the funding for the enterprise software as the project pays for itself. That doesn't happen as often as one would hope, though, as many times new servers, shared storage, and network switch upgrades need to be purchased. It's during these times that we see the ROI, while still acceptable, isn't good enough for the management to give the project the funding needed. They're not only protecting this investment but the company as a whole. Leveraging the free hypervisors during these uncertain times is crucial to the lifecycle of the IT environment. Innovation must continue to move forward as fast as business or faster.

So no matter which hypervisor you prefer, I know that you'll look back on your decision to give it a try and wonder, why did I wait so long?

Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008

VMware ESXi 3.5

Citrix XenServer