Sometimes you can get industry insights from the most unexpected of places. When we're talking about virtualization, insights can come – apparently – from a frozen custard van.
Of course, if I may paraphrase the late Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone, this was no ordinary frozen custard van. It was a frozen custard van rented by Microsoft from Frozen Kuhsterd and painted up in Microsoft virtualization livery to form the centerpiece of the company's VMworld guerrilla marketing campaign.
While it certainly seems odd that a mega-company such as Microsoft would need to resort to guerrilla marketing tactics, when it comes to virtualization technology, VMware's VMworld is a huge event to which Microsoft is not invited. But since almost anyone with an interest in virtualization technology is there, it's the ideal event for Microsoft to go to and try to grab the attention of potential customers.
Which leads us to the frozen custard van, which was parked up a few blocks from the Moscone Center, offering free frozen custardy goodness to any visitors — and VMware staff, to Microsoft's credit — who wanted to take the short walk there. In return for the cold stuff, Microsoft staff were on hand to discuss the latest trends in storage and networking and the future of the data center — and, above all else, of course, the Hyper-V hypervisor and System Center.
Insights Learned from VMworld and the Frozen Custard Van
So what came out of those unlikely discussions between Microsoft and VMware aficionados and staff?
The first insight is the sheer amount of virtualization technology that is gushing out of VMware and other virtualization vendors. It used to be all about server virtualization, but those simpler days can only be looked back on as fond memories at this point.
"A clear example is the advent of storage and network virtualization solutions, which is challenging virtualization experts to expand their knowledge base to concepts that were previously the domain of other specialists," the Windows Server Team said on its blog.
It's pretty clear from this that virtualization professionals are struggling to keep abreast of the stream of innovations coming out of VMware, and if they are not careful it will just pass them by. When technology gets too much for one person to understand, innovations are rarely adopted until organizations have a chance to catch their breath, reconfigure staff responsibilities and try to work out who needs to know what before considering implementing this technology.
Questioning Virtualization's Actual Impact on Business Agility
The next insight follows on from this directly. The Microsoft team noted that a number of people "acknowledged their business units' frustration with IT's perceived lack of agility, and were acutely aware of the ability of business units to work 'around' IT by leveraging a cloud provider."
That's ironic to say the least, because virtualization is often sold on the promise of providing a high level of agility — both IT agility and business agility. You know the spiel: the ability to choose services from a self-service catalog, the capability of spinning up machines from a library automatically whenever you want them. All that kind of stuff.
But if business units are looking at bypassing IT and going straight to a cloud provider, this indicates that there's a significant disconnect between what VMware's (and other vendors') technology can offer in theory, and what it is actually delivering in practice.
The simple truth is that virtualization — and remember, that means storage, network and server virtualization — is evolving faster than IT staff can learn how to master it. And what good is virtualization technology to your organization if no one knows how to use it?
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.