Virtualization: A Big Piece of the IT Puzzle, But Still Just a Piece

Arthur Cole

Virtualization, and by extension the cloud, is the most dramatic change to ever hit the data center. That's not hyperbole, it's just fact.

But even though the changes it brings to the IT industry are significant and extend right to the very nature of hardware, software and data, that still doesn't mean it alone is the answer to all that ails us. In fact, virtualization could very easily become a nightmare technology if it is not designed to conform with some of the other big changes taking place in the enterprise.

By now, the major patterns of virtualization deployment are well known. According to Gartner, more than 80 percent of enterprises have deployed some kind of virtual technology, but the actual portion of virtualization compared to traditional infrastructure is still quite low. That's a big problem because, as Gartner's Philip Dawson recently pointed out to eChannelLine, between 80 and 90 percent of a typical server's resources sit idle at any given time. That means a lot of capital has been spent over the past several decades to literally do nothing.

But despite rumblings about the all-virtual or all-cloud data center, most experts will tell you that not everything is going to be virtualized. Dave Hart, CTO of integration specialist Presidio, told Forbes recently that very large database and transactional applications will probably remain on raw iron because communication between the hypervisor and networked storage gets bogged down in heavy traffic. Word to the wise: Before you get taken in by impressive-sounding benchmarks, make sure the tests were done with real NAS, not DAS.

Virtualization may be king right now, but it certainly does not have complete autonomy. Trends like network convergence, unified communications and solid-state technology are shaking things up as well, and they all must be woven into a cohesive whole if the enterprise is to remain competitive in the next decade. Failure to play each development in relation to the others can be a recipe for disaster, as one client of Nemertes Research found when it turned out the company's 5,000-seat communications software system wasn't compatible with a planned virtual desktop system.

You also should be aware of some of the operational limits of virtualization before you become too dependent on the technology, according to F5's Lori MacVittie. In short, virtualization is great at simplifying the deployment of resources, but it introduces vast new complexities when it comes to management and execution. Until someone comes up with a truly holistic approach to full infrastructure management-one that accommodates all manner of physical, virtual and cloud platforms and topographies-the real benefits of virtualization will be forever out of reach. My guess is that F5 is working on just such a solution right now.

So what can we take away from all this? First, virtualization is an impressive development, but it is by no means the final piece of the IT puzzle. And two, there are numerous ways in which virtual deployments can actually make things worse, particularly if you have an incomplete vision of where your data center stands now and where you want to take it tomorrow.

Still, virtualization is not an option anymore. As ever-increasing data loads come your way, efficient use of resources will be a primary driver of future data operations. It's a vital tool, but you need to get it right.

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