Welcome to the New Virtual Data Center

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It wasn't long ago that the concept of the virtual data center revolved around a fully virtualized infrastructure within a traditional bricks and mortar facility.

What a difference a few years can make.

Today, the idea has morphed into a cloud-based, fully virtual computing environment in which just about anyone can tap into the most advanced data center services and resource sets almost as easily as they flick a light switch.

Companies like ConVirt are employing Xen and KVM (kernel-based Virtual Machine) technology to bolster both the ability to create full data center functionality in the cloud and the migration of data and applications from traditional infrastructure. The result is a fully functional SaaS, PaaS and IaaS platform that provides a high degree of data and resource manageability capable of allowing enterprises to customize full data center environments to suit both user and application needs. The platform works with both public and private resources, enabling established enterprises to utilize existing resources supplemented by the cloud, while smaller organizations can opt for a complete cloud-based virtual data environment.

Another newcomer pursuing a similar angle is ProfitBricks, an IaaS service company that claims to cut in half the cost of establishing new cloud-based data centers. The company's platform requires no pre-defined plans or configuration processes and offers "live vertical scaling" that allows users to add processor cores, storage and other resources on the fly. The system also provides a highly adaptable network configuration manager that moves simple or complex network designs from diagram to implementation quickly and easily.

Established vendors aren't about to cede this market to a bunch of upstarts, however. And although the names have changed — VMware, for example, prefers the "software-defined datacenter" label these days — the concept is largely the same: complete virtualization of all server, storage and networking so they can be built up and torn down across disparate infrastructure. The recent purchase of Nicira is the latest piece to this complicated puzzle, providing a robust network virtualization platform and delivering ground-level support for the OpenStack cloud controller. At $1.26 billion, Nicira represents the single largest acquisition in VMware's history.

The virtual data center holds out the possibility of fulfilling a number of long-standing goals for enterprise dreamers and technology futurists alike. From utility computing to dynamic data infrastructure to fully open architecture management, all things are possible on the virtual layer.

And if current trend lines play out as expected, it won't be long before enterprise IT will be tasked with strictly application and performance management while leaving all that messy business of infrastructure to someone else.