Dark Clouds on the Virtual Horizon

Arthur Cole

Virtualization continues to play the good-cop/bad-cop game in the enterprise, offering both tremendous promise, but with significant challenges on the road to a more efficient and effective data ecosystem. At the same time, however, the hiccups in virtual deployment are hampering that other significant IT development: cloud computing.


The latest data comes from Enterprise Strategy Group, which reports that nearly three-quarters of North American large and mid-sized organizations have deployed virtualization in one form or another (good-cop). The downside is when you drill down into the data to find that even large groups are running fewer than 250 VMs, with less than one-third performing online VM migration, and even then primarily for maintenance purposes (bad-cop).


The skinny on all this is that unless enterprises start using virtualization's innate load-balancing and resource-allocation properties, rather than as a simple means toward resource consolidation, then the truly revolutionary aspect of the technology will be wasted. It will become little more than a commodity software stack on standard enterprise hardware systems.


As I mentioned, the impact this will have on cloud computing cannot be overstated. As datacenterjournal.com's Rakesh Dogra points out, the cloud simply cannot function as advertised without virtual support for Web applications, database management and transactional environments. But it goes further than that. Without the management- and system-sustainability advantages of virtualization-primarily the migration and mobility capabilities - then cloud infrastructures will prove to be too slow and cumbersome to be of much use.


Of course, virtualization is a tremendous boon to those who stand to profit from it. VMware reported a 46 percent increase in revenue for the third quarter, boosting sales from $456 million in 3Q 2009 to $714 million for the quarter this year. In fact, it can be argued that virtual technology single-handedly saved the IT industry from hitting the skids along with the rest of the economy. True, it allowed enterprises to do more with less hardware, but they also revved up normal refresh cycles simply to take advantage of the latest virtual platforms.


And now that most of the large organizations have waded into the virtual waters, expect the next big push to hit the SMB market. Gartner VP Tony Bittman expects small business to more than triple their virtual workloads by next year, a rate that would vastly outstrip the rollout occurring in the larger organizations. Small companies are at an advantage, he argues, in that they can go completely virtual all at once, as opposed to the piecemeal approach of their larger brethren. In that way, it could very well be the small business that pushes into more advanced architectures like the cloud, considering they will be in a better position to leverage virtualization across their entire infrastructures sooner and probably don't have much to gain from consolidation anyway.


At this point, it's too soon to start sounding the alarm bells over virtualization and cloud. But it is important not to get too caught up in the hype either. Yes, virtualization and the cloud still hold the promise of a vastly different data universe than we've seen so far. But no, it won't happen overnight, and it won't obliterate those who don't shell out big dollars for a constant stream of cutting-edge technology.



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