Virtualization continues to be the major trend sweeping the data center industry. But now that most enterprises have gotten a little virtual experience under their belts, the focus is starting to shift from deployment issues to optimization.
Getting the most out of the investment in virtual technology is likely to be the key growth area in IT spending for the next several years, but with a twist. Whereas before the goal was to consolidate hardware and reap savings in both capital and operational budgets, the next move is to leverage the environment toward new capabilities, particularly out on the cloud.
A recent study by the IT Process Institute and sponsored by CA and VMware claimed that things like improved availability, disaster recovery and dynamic resource management are heading the list of desirable outcomes as enterprises head into this next phase of virtualization. That means attention is likely to shift from establishing and provisioning virtual resources to setting up the proper management procedures and controls to govern them. As things move along, greater attention will have to be paid to things like uniform build images, configuration discovery and change approval and tracking.
It also means recognizing those operations where virtualization does not lend itself. Messaging is one example, according to Nicholas Filippi, director of product development at e-mail systems firm Sendmail. Whether it's operational challenges like maintaining SLAs or virtual sprawl, or technical ones like the fact that some server hosts may have incompatible CPU instruction sets, migrating the messaging infrastructure to a virtual environment is problematic at best.
In other areas, though, virtualization is not only viable, but can be implemented at much lower costs than we have seen so far. One of these is storage, according to Storage Switzerland's George Crump. Simply by separating storage hardware from software the way it's done on servers, you can do things like host the software on a server or virtual appliance, increasing your capabilities without adding hardware. Hosting virtual environments on iSCSI or NFS also allows you to utilize your IP infrastructure for your SAN, cutting down on the need for adapters.
Still, the important thing to remember is that virtualization is only a means to an end, according to CloudSwitch founder Ellen Rubin. If the ultimate goal is to shed the rigid silo approach in favor of a dynamic, elastic model, then even the most advanced virtual technologies will still leave you with a hefty infrastructure replete with management hassles and high energy costs. The true promise of virtualization can only be achieved once you're up on the cloud, where provisioning and other decisions are made not based on what resources are available but on who has the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions.
The best part about viewing virtualization as a transitional technology is that it offers a glimpse of the truly revolutionary direction that IT is heading. Think about it. Not five years ago, most enterprises were grinding away with static, discrete hardware platforms, much of which was sitting idle as a hedge against peak loads.
Now we have fewer boxes providing a more efficient and flexible resource pool capable of scaling up to meet all but the most extreme data requirements. Ultimately, we'll have resources-on-demand and the ability to shift data loads on a global scale.
And we're not even halfway there.