Server Virtualization: The IT Holding Pattern

Three steps to the cloud

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There is no doubt that server virtualization delivers massive efficiency in the data center. Based on an initial survey of 1,602 IT professionals, ESG found that nearly three-quarters (74%) of North American enterprise and large midmarket organizations are currently using server virtualization, while an additional 12% are currently evaluating or piloting the technology. Server virtualization's impact is nothing short of phenomenal and all ESG's indicators point to continued growth and investment over the next 24 months. But if you immerse yourself into the technology industry's messaging, marketing, and advertising, you, rightfully so, would be lead to believe that IT is rapidly automating tasks, virtual machines are being deployed by the thousands, and everyone is advancing towards the "cloud". Ah ... not so fast.

  • The majority of implementations in the enterprise are running less than 250 virtual machines (whether in production or test/development)
  • Legacy systems/ applications running on non-supported platforms is a top factor that is preventing organizations from using server virtualization more pervasively.
  • Less than 1/3 of organizations ESG recently surveyed are performing online migrations of virtual machines and, when they they do perform online migrations, it is primarily used for planned hardware maintenance.

Server virtualization is a great technology that will continue to deliver massive value for businesses, but right now it is acting more like a holding pattern for existing applications (primarily IT owned and managed). IT operations is making significant strides to consolidate workloads (primarily Windows (+80%)) and data centers and even streamline operations, but I'm still not convinced that server virtualization is the platform of the future. When the weather breaks and clouds form, clearer definition businesses are likely to explore alternative application platforms and consumption models. Today, business are:

  1. Migrating physical servers to virtual machines for consolidation, improved application availability, and improved disaster recovery
  2. Maintaining applications that are well protected, operating efficiently or require massive overhaul
  3. Moving workloads to a more efficient and economic favorable platform--"the cloud"

It is plausible that organizations will skip #1 all together, work with what they have in #2, and ready themselves for #3. Or more likely use #1 as a holding pattern as they transition #1 candidates and high priority #2s to #3. Too much focus is directed towards the belief that #1 is naturally going to transform IT into a fully automated, self service organization. Some of this will certainly happen, but security, organizational complexity, existing investments in applications stacks, and innovation in new application platforms(i.e.,the cloud) will slow server virtualization growth over time and increase the validity and consumption of the cloud across industries and of organizations of all sizes.

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