Virtually Speaking: The Users Weigh In

by Amy Newman

Despite vendor claims, server virtualization is not all wine and roses. What do enterprises see as top concerns and benefits?

Amy Newman

Listen to the virtualization vendors, and they'll have you believe virtualization is the solution to everything from runaway energy costs to world peace.

Listen to some to the research firms and it seems yet another overhyped technology that has yet to gain a following. According to IDC, for example, only 5 percent of all x86 servers are virtualized. In addition, the vast majority of virtualized servers are in test and development environments rather than production.

User enterprises present a third view, as Bob Gill, chief research officer of The InfoPro (TIP), a New York City based IT research firm, described to ServerWatch.

TIP is best-known for its surveys of tightly culled pool of 150 largely Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies in six-month increments, which it refers to as "waves." Three waves of its virtualization surveys have been conducted, the most recent in August. TIP found enterprise concerns changed dramatically between the second and third wave, which parallels an increased awareness of virtualization capabilities and penetration.

Part of the reason for the shift is also the recognition that the technology is here to stay. In fact, according to Gill, 85 percent of those surveyed said they believe virtualization technology is critical. Within this group, 50 percent of server loads are virtualized, he said.

The research firm has found the majority of deployments to be on Windows servers, with "not as much of an uptake as expected in Xen," Gill said. Microsoft MOM, is the tool most often hooked into he added.

Between Wave 2 and Wave 3, manageability and performance-under-load increased in importance. Reliability, which was the paramount concern in the second wave, took a back seat to performance concerns (though it remained more of a concern than manageability) in Wave 2.

Other concerns were OS compatibility, application licensing, little or no cost benefits, recoverability, OS licensing and security. Concern for application licensing was the only factor that declined. Interestingly, concern for OS compatibility remained flat and security (low to start with) went down to nil.

In the long term, respondents anticipate manageability and performance-under-load becoming paramount concerns, while reliability and licensing issues will work themselves out. This, according to TIP, is indicative of, "a general confidence that virtualization will be broadly deployed; users will shift their concerns from implementation to more mundane, but equally critical, issues of keeping the growing number of VM's [virtual machines] running properly."

These are more pragmatic concerns, according to Gill. They represent a shift from concerns about the unknown (e.g., how much will it save? How complicated will the OS licensing be?), to actual issues being encountered.

Similarly, what enterprises hope to gain from virtualization has changed since the Wave 2 survey. When asked which virtualization benefit is most important in determining whether an app will be virtualized, server consolidation and cost savings remained the drivers, and respondents deemed them even more critical than they did six months prior.

Dynamic provisioning and disaster recovery, while remaining important, declined in criticality. So, while concern over their effectiveness declined, so too did their perceived value.

Respondents see a virtualized future very different from the present. Three years from now, they foresee dynamic provisioning (a benefit that actually declined in importance between the second and third wave surveys) as far and away the key benefit to virtualizing an application. Cost savings and disaster preparedness and recovery are also seen as drivers. Ironically, respondents did not see server consolidation, today's primary driver, as being strong down the road.

Virtualization is one of those rare technologies that has become an easy sell to IT staffs and senior management alike. It's far from a silver bullet for all ills, however, and universal acceptance is in no way guaranteed, or necessarily desired.

As the technology penetrates wider and deeper in more enterprises, enterprise needs and expected benefits will change. Vendors that foresee these challenges and deliver stand to gain the most.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

This article was originally published on Friday Dec 8th 2006
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