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Top virtualization trends of 2009

Hindsight is 20/20, and we've got an eagle-eye view of the virtualization landscape. Did analysts' predictions come true? Find out in this review of 2009's top virtualization trends.

With the continuing adoption and success of virtualization, what were the top virtualization trends for 2009? Are IT organizations gaining the benefits promised? What are they virtualizing? What are they focused on for 2010? What is needed to take the next step? Here are the top trends we've identified through both Focus on Systems' research series and ongoing work with IT professionals from advanced virtualization shops.

1. Virtualization is delivering on its promises
After thirty years in IT, I have become fairly jaded about new technologies and the vendors who pitch them, and whether those technologies truly deliver on the promises made by those evangelizing and selling them. Only a few times in those thirty years have I seen anything that has delivered on the promises the way that server virtualization has. Granted, virtualization is not new (I actually started working with virtualization thirty years ago on IBM mainframes), but virtualization of commoditized x86 servers is new. Consolidation through server virtualization has been, for the past few years, the primary driver for the 80+% of users running virtualization in production, and the 95% running it in some form today.

Virtualization has been sold on the benefits of increased utilization of resources, reduced space, power and cooling, reducing the TCO and increasing the ROI of servers, improving IT agility and reducing provisioning time. And indeed, our study shows that these are the top benefits reported by users who have virtualized. Virtualization has delivered on its promises!

2. The type of servers and applications being virtualized is broadening, and expanding to the next tier of servers and apps is the top priority for virtualization projects
Early virtualization efforts focused on the servers that were easy to consolidate – the low-hanging fruit of Web servers and file and print servers. While 70% - 80% of organizations have virtualized these servers, other types of servers have crept in over the past few years. Virtualization bashers have been saying that you can't virtualize database servers, but our study showed almost 60% of shops are in fact running database servers virtualized, in production. (And with the new I/O improvements from vSphere DirectPath and Intel's new I/O improvements for virtualization in the chipset, this will take another giant step forward). Microsoft Exchange was considered off-limits by many as well, and 25% of organizations in the study have had success here as well.

3. Inflection point for desktop and storage virtualization, with desktop as number two priority
Adoption of server virtualization has been substantially higher than either storage or desktop virtualization, with 27% of users in the study having storage virtualization in production, and 21% having desktop virtualization in production. Interestingly though, in both cases the number in the planning stages for these two areas is substantially higher. 37% of users said they are planning to implement desktop virtualization and 34% said they are planning to implement storage virtualization. In fact, 24% are planning to implement desktop virtualization within 12 months, doubling the number of shops who have implemented to-date.

In addition, desktop virtualization was the highest priority for the next virtualization effort, second only to expanding server virtualization to more servers and applications. With this level of growth, we seem to have hit the inflection point in adoption growth, and especially for desktop virtualization; it looks like 2010 may be the year of desktop virtualization.

4. Landscape shifting towards multi-hypervisor environments
As part of virtualization expansion, organizations are also expanding their platforms, adding other hypervisors in addition to VMware to the mix. VMware continues to hold the dominant position, but more shops are now using and evaluating other platforms, with an increasing number using two or more hypervisors. According to our recent study of over 250 organizations, 44% are using only one hypervisor in production, with 23% using two virtualization platforms in production and 19% using three or more in production. In terms of specific platforms in use or evaluation, 74% are using VMware ESX, but only 24% are using VMware ESX only (versus those also using/evaluating other server virtualization platforms).

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the growth in other platforms is still in the evaluation stage, with that number growing substantially, with 29% using or evaluating Hyper-V, 27% using or evaluating Citrix XenServer, and 39% using or evaluating other Xen-based solutions. With the recent new releases of both Hyper-V and XenServer, and with both products included free with others from their respective vendors, expansion to multi-hypervisor environments will continue to grow.

5. Consolidation continues but DR takes over as number 1
With the compelling business case that virtualization offers for consolidation, coming from the consolidation benefits reported previously (increased utilization of resources, reduced space, power and cooling, reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) and increasing the return on investment (ROI) of servers), continued consolidation is still a prime factor in expanding server virtualization to more servers and applications. However, for the first time since we've been watching this space, disaster recovery (DR) has now taken over as the top driver for consolidation.

Virtualization adoption has expanded down market to smaller organizations, where the number of servers is lower, and there may not be enough servers for consolidation to be a big deal. Disaster recovery, however, is a universal problem. Virtualization dramatically reduces the cost of DR by eliminating the need to have a duplicate physical configuration at the DR site (by using virtual servers instead).

6. Management is critical to successful expansion
As shops expand to the next round of virtualization, adding more servers and different types of applications, a variety of barriers emerge that need to be addressed to ensure success at the next level. These barriers tend to revolve around performance, issues, storage issues, security issues and other management challenges. Addressing these issues requires a combination of things which include products, processes and people. Solving the people issues requires both education and cooperation, moving away from silos and bringing an understanding of virtualization beyond the server team to the storage, networking and desktop folks, and getting these folks to work together to leverage the benefits of the entire virtual infrastructure.

Evaluating and implementing the right management tools for your environment is the next step, with a huge number of new products available to help with these issues. Last but not least, putting policies and processes into place alongside these tools is critical. For example, having a tool for life cycle management will only solve the problem of virtual server sprawl if the tool is implemented with the necessary policies for your organization.

For more information on virtualization management pain points, priorities and available management tools to help address them, check out the complete FOCUS Research Series: Managing the Virtual Environment.


Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus. Barb has spent over 30 years in technical, marketing, sales, senior management and industry analyst roles with IBM, StorageTek, Novell, EMA and multiple successful startups. She has authored hundreds of articles, business and technical white papers and research studies, in addition to her book "Blade Servers and Virtualization."


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