Virtualization is only just beginning to make its presence known in the enterprise despite its already heavy impact on the server farm. As the technology rolls into the next decade, it will literally remake IT operations from the ground up, drastically altering the way both hardware and software systems are acquired, deployed, utilized and retired.
That's the general consensus of a number of industry analysts this week, nearly five years since virtualization quietly crept into the x86 market after languishing for decades in the mainframe.
The boldest predictions come from Gartner in its latest report on virtualization, in preparation for the company's Symposium/ITxpo event in Las Vegas next week. According to Gartner VP and analyst Philip Dawson, if you think server virtualization and consolidation are cool, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Within the next four years, both server and PC virtualization will forever separate the links between both hardware and operating systems and OSs and applications -- breaking the OS dominance of the market that has existed since in the mid-70s. Add to that the prospect of virtual network infrastructures and you have the ability for the first time to establish network policies based on actual needs, rather than what the technology will allow.
Although it might seem like we are well on the way to virtualized IT, the revolution is only at its earliest stages, says Egenera CTO Pete Manca. In fact, until you've virtualized your I/O infrastructure, all you're really doing is creating more of the same static, inflexible systems that are already humming in your racks. And few people are even talking about things like file virtualization, data virtualization and application virtualization, all of which stand to make resources even more agile and flexible.
This is not to say that virtualization will usher in a golden era of enterprise technology. Virtualization solves many of today's current problems, but introduces a new set of its own. Chief among them is management, according to this panel of experts put together by Forbes. To improve ease-of-use for the user, virtualization adds a tremendous amount of complexity to the enterprise, and quite frankly, it's not all that clear that the current generation of management systems will prove to be very effective as more virtual systems come online.
One interesting question is how all this will affect the current virtualization market leader: VMware. Analyst Brian Madden blogs that the company could have a tough time once virtualization becomes commodity software across the enterprise and competition shifts from feature sets to pricing. Now that Microsoft has woken up to the fact that virtualization stands to displace the operating system as the underlying software platform, it could be difficult for straight virtualization players to keep up.
Then again, if VMware maintains its position through creative product development and strong channel support, we may all be witness to the crowning of a new King of the Enterprise.