With the number of days left in 2007 approaching single digits, it's time to put this year to bed and look ahead to 2008. It would be hard to argue that 2007 was a watershed for virtualization technology. From chipmakers to ISVs, every IT demographic felt a virtual tug as the technology made its way into the mainstream.
Virtualization is even starting to impact which servers are leaving the factory. According to research firm IDC, third-quarter factory revenue in the worldwide server market grew 0.5 percent year-over-year, while the number of server units shipped grew 1.5 percent less than it did for the previous period in 2006. Is this an indicator of a bigger trend, as companies soup-up hardware to scale out an go virtual?
Perhaps. But there's little doubt that in 2008 going virtual will bring sweeping changes to IT organizations and the data centers they support. Here are some trends to keep an eye on in the new year:
1. Security Will Loom Large
Despite data breaches, spam and viruses under pretty much any rock you picked up this past year, virtualization remained largely immune. This will most likely change in 2008. Earlier this year, Gartner began singing a tune of caution for enterprises in the process of virtualizing their infrastructures, noting "that security issues are endemic to virtualization. They begin at the architecture level. Even the hypervisor itself represents a threat that malicious hackers will target."
This is because, as vice president and Gartner fellow, Neil MacDonald said, "You have 10 workloads and you merge them onto one, that's a very attractive target for a bad guy. Now, if I compromise just one thin layer I get all 10 machines. ... And this layer will be targeted."
Such a breach did not occur in 2007. However, deployments are increasing, and enterprises remain complacent about security. The advice here is obvious: Be proactive and tighten up your virtual machines because a breach is inevitable.
MacDonald noted that managing the security in a virtualized environment is a lot like managing yet another operating system. Therefore be sure to keep the hypervisor patched, correctly configured and up to date.
2. Easy Money Won't Be Quite So Easy Anymore
In 2007, any vendor that put "virtual" in front of its name or its product's name was able to pretty much write its own ticket. This will most likely change. With the economy tightening and virtualization offerings exceeding deployment and deployment plans, it's doubtful the venture capital firms that have been funding this whole exercise will continue to be so generous. Ideas will need to be more solid to receive funding, and venture capital firms may be ready to cash out, whether through a sale or IPO.
3. Value-Add Will Be Critical
What the virtualization vendors offer beyond the hypervisor will be the deciding factor for their success.
In early 2007, "it's all about the management," was the mantra. By now, user enterprises and ISVs have drunk the Kool-Aid. Management options are out there whether they're being used properly is unclear, but they are available. In the latter half of 2007, attention moved to performance, integration and usability. In some cases enterprises are growing their own options. In other cases they are partnering. Last week, VMware, which traditionally has been a go-it-alone type of company, announced a partnership with SAP. Expect to see much more of such deal between the virtualization vendors and ISVs, as its less expensive and more efficient for all parties to do it this way.
4. Vendor Consolidation Will Continue
EMC may have given VMware a longer leash, but other vendors that played in the virtual playground were swallowed up. HP acquired Opsware; Citrix swallowed Xen. Virtual Iron and SWsoft (recently rechristened Parallels) remain independent. With Microsoft coming on the scene, the competition will tighten. Virtual Iron plays the partnership card well, and where that will take it in 2008 is anyone's guess.
As for who might be acquiring watch the hardware side carefully. Theories about Intel, Sun Microsystems and IBM going on shopping sprees have surfaced in the blogosphere in recent months.
5. Microsoft Will Make Waves
Microsoft may be easy to mock, and the oft-described Redmond behemoth hardly ever comes out with anything new, technology-wise. It didn't become what it did by being stupid, however, and it has acknowledged that virtualization is here and it's here to stay. Therefore, a cannon bigger than Microsoft Virtual Server will be needed. Enter Hyper-V, the hypervisor formerly known as Viridian, which Microsoft released into public beta last week.
Hyper-V will have an enormous and direct impact on the virtualization landscape in 2008. Sure, it isn't expected to go gold until six months after Windows Server 2008 ships, but does that even matter in user communities that have largely accepted beta to be nearly as good as gold especially from Microsoft, known for its constant patching and release packs.
More organizations deploy Microsoft than any other operating system. With Hyper-V a standard component, enterprises still on the virtual fence will be able to dip a toe in the water, easily and inexpensively.
This will make VMware and its ilk a tougher sell, especially if Microsoft truly plays nice with other operating systems. The value VMware and other competitors add will need to be enough to justify their price.
6. Storage and Servers Will Converge
Convergence has been a buzzword in the dot-com era. Sometimes it holds true, sometimes not. The storage and server infrastructures have been skirting each other for years, and storage has a legacy of its own with virtualization. RAID arrays really aren't that different from virtual machines, after all.
Consider last week's product news from VMware, which unwrapped a new version of Virtual Infrastructure, and Virtual Iron, which took a new version of its software out of the bag. Both vendors emphasized storage, and the evidence of melding is pretty clear.
7. I/O and Automation Will Become Increasingly Critical
Not that they weren't before. When you're moving workloads around and planning out deployments, it's important to have an understanding of your needs and limitations. As more workloads are moved around virtually, it's even more paramount.
A recent survey from Xsigo Systems highlighted I/O problems that have been surfacing. As for automation, consider the price HP paid for Opsware this year and how quickly it integrated it into the organization.
Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001.