Virtually Speaking: The Future Looks Bright

by Amy Newman

Gartner weighs in on the future of virtualization and looks beyond the hypervisor. Plus: the latest from Virtual Iron brings some of this future to the present.

Amy Newman

With all of the virtualization news that surfaced last week, it was impossible to cover everything. One interesting tidbit that bears a short trip in the time machine is Gartner's latest pronouncement on virtualization.

At its Infrastructure, Operations and Data Centre Summit in Sydney, Australia, last week, vice President and distinguished analyst Thomas Bittman had some interesting things to say about where virtualization technology is headed.

Virtualization will be the most important technology in IT infrastructures and operations up to 2010, and it will dramatically change how IT departments manage, buy, deploy, plan and charge for their services, a press release issued by the research outfit stated.

Gartner is not the first to comment on the effects of virtualization technology on the data center. In March, IDC issued estimates around the impact it believed virtualization is having on server sales.

Last week, Gartner served up some numbers of its own, anticipating that the total number of virtual machines deployed worldwide will exceed more than 4 million by 2009, up from 540,000 at the end of 2006. Like IDC, it believes virtualization is and will continue to have an impact on x86 server sales.

Gartner's predictions are more conservative than IDC's, which pegged the number of virtual servers at 7.9 million logical server, and the number of virtualized boxes at 1.7 million physical servers by 2010. At that time, IDC expects virtualized servers to represent 14.6 percent of all physical servers, compared to just 4.5 percent in 2005.

Bittman said he believes virtualization is now about more than server and storage consolidation and cost saving, as, it "enables alternative delivery models for services. Each virtualized layer can be managed relatively independently or even owned by someone else, for example, streamed applications or employee-owned PCs. This can require major cultural changes for organizations."

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Bittman also anticipates ubiquity for virtualization coming soon. Very soon. By the end of next year, he said he believes virtual machine hypervisor technology will be almost free, embedded in servers by hardware manufacturers and in operating systems by software vendors.

It seems like the hypervisor has been moving toward commoditization for some time, and the hypervisor vendors have been steadily adding on a variety of other services — from management tools to desktop apps — to validate their reason for existing.

Speaking of the desktop, Gartner long a believer in thin-client architecture, sees the desktop as having even more potential than the server to provide the benefits of virtualization to enterprises.

This is because desktop virtualization is about isolation and creating a managed environment that the user cannot alter, Bittman said.

The Latest From Virtual Iron

Virtual Iron is a clear example of this progression. When the company initially released its virtualization platform back in 2003, it offered its own hypervisor. In April 2006, it shed its proprietary hypervisor to standardize on Xen. It now focuses its development on the platform around it and other services, including the desktop.

This week, Virtual Iron released version 3.6 of its virtualization platform. The major enhancement in this new version is a hook for ISPs: VLAN support.

VLAN support, already supported within Xen, will enable multiple networks to share a Network Interface Card (NIC), Tim Walsh Virtual Iron product manager, told ServerWatch.

This positions Virtual Iron for the ISP space, Walsh said, and here it anticipates competition to be stronger from SWsoft than its traditional nemesis, VMware. Supporting Virtual Iron's debut in this space, are two customer wins: Meganet Communications and XCalibre Communications.

The typical ISP hosts hundreds of customers. Being able to consolidate as many as 100 VLANS (or eight to 16, in the case of a large enterprise) onto a single box and NIC delivers tremendous savings because there is less equipment to purchase, manage and support, Walsh said.

Virtual Iron claims this saves as much as $15,000 to $24,000 per server. It also allows for increased server consolidation, and reduced power and cooling requirements.

With savings like that, Virtual Iron's $499 per socket price tag comes across as a pretty good bargain.

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

This article was originally published on Friday May 18th 2007
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