Cirba Offers Way through Virtualisation Management Maze

Tetris, the Russian game that was ubiquitous across computers and consoles in the 1980s and 1990s, served as a substitute for human interaction for tens, perhaps, hundreds of millions of children growing up in those years. But in my recent conversation with Cirba co-founder and CTO Andrew Hillier, it served a different purpose: as metaphor for one of the knottier challenges of virtualisation that his company seeks to unravel.

Cirba, a privately held company founded in 1999 and headquartered in Ontario, Canada, controls capacity in virtualised infrastructures and cloud environments through software automation. Or, to use Hillier’s pet analogy when we meet over lunch at the wonderfully good Arbutus restaurant in London’s achingly trendy Soho area, it’s like that famous old tile game:

“If you look at the profile of an app, some are busy in the morning, some at night, some have month-end spikes and some are flat. If you play Tetris poorly you get a lot of unused space and that’s exactly what happens in virtualised environments where, if you manage them poorly, you have a lot of spare capacity.”

That spare capacity equals wasted money on hardware and on software licences (Cirba reckons it can save up to 70% here), floor space, energy, cabling, manual admin inputs and other outcomes abhorrent to datacentre managers. So, like an expertly played demo game of Tetris, Cirba acts to make CPU, RAM, disk and network combine in a way that is optimal, matching resources and availability for best-value matches, supporting demand planning and automatically balancing and rightsizing VMs. The technology is hypervisor-agnostic, meaning it will run on anything from virtualisation’s 800-pound gorilla VMware, to Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Xen and on to IBM Power, Sun Solaris and other environments. (In a former life, Hillier worked for a systems management company that was acquired by Sun.)

This is important stuff. Nobody should doubt that virtualisation of volume servers has been one of the most significant innovations of the last 10 years, bringing enormous efficiencies. However, it has demanded a new set of skills and revamped approaches to understanding server utilisation, failover, software licensing, service level agreements and more. Cirba helps to mitigate these issues for enterprises or hyper-scale datacentre operators.

A key Cirba feature is Reservation Console, modelling demands or workloads with system availability so jobs are scheduled for most efficiency. Reaching for another (non-Tetris) analogy, Hillier compares this to a hotel booking system.

“There are dozens or hundreds of places you could run a VM. It’s like a hotel where you can book a room with or without pool or not allow pets or find rooms at the right price for a guest.”

The sorts of manageability challenges that Cirba addresses are, naturally, the same as those virtualisation companies are attempting, or will attempt, to build in themselves as they become fully-fledge toolkit providers. But the bigger firms have other fish to fry and, as their nets become ever bigger, there is bound to be scope for specialists. There is also guaranteed to be a fear on the buy-side of becoming overly bought in to one supplier that can then play hardball with customers without fear of retribution. “There’s a clear desire among CIOs to avoid lock-in in general,” Hillier says.

This all means that Cirba has plenty of headroom left as virtualisation continues to grow and become an even more important datacentre management task. Managing the complexity of these environments will be complicated and frustrating, requiring precision, time and skill.

Like Tetris. 


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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