All things virtual

Server virtualization today - desktop and application virtualization tomorrow.

Server virtualization is hotter than hot, ignited by the technology's use in creating a more compact, highly flexible

and cost-efficient server infrastructure. Survey results from Forrester Research, for example, show that 75% of 1,200 respondents at global enterprises are aware of server virtualization technology, with 26% having implemented it and another 8% set to pilot it within the next year. Also telling is that 60% of the respondents who have implemented the technology plan to expand their use.

As companies become familiar with the technology, benefits start accruing. All this activity leads to the ultimate New Data Center architecture, one built on a virtualized infrastructure. Still, only about 5% of enterprise servers today are virtualized, and getting to the point where virtualization is the general-purpose architecture and de facto deployment mechanism will take years, says Ashmeet Sidana, a venture partner with Foundation Capital and one-time VMware ESX Server product executive.

Don't put your blinders on, however. Server virtualization is not the only virtualization option out there. In the next few years, we're sure to see some fantastic virtualization developments across the New Data Center, he says.

Virtualization at your fingertips

For example, look for cool things to happen in the area of desktop virtualization. "There are many start-ups thinking about how to apply virtualization to solve management, deployment, availability, backup and patching requirements," Sidana says.

Sidana won't admit - at least not publicly - to having found a company yet worth Foundation's backing. Instead, he points to virtualization-development efforts at the many companies belonging to the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Alliance, a VMware-led initiative launched in April. Off the bat, the roster includes such names as Altiris, Appstream, Ardence, Check Point, Citrix, Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Leostream, NEC, Platform Computing, Softricity, Sun and Wyse Technology. The alliance's goal, according to VMware, is to let IT administrators host and centrally manage desktop virtual machines in their data center while they provide users a full desktop experience from wherever they are.

Certainly, virtualization in other areas of the New Data Center is every bit as promising as server virtualization has proven to be. Take a look at application virtualization, for example. Because it lets applications run independently of host operating systems and each other, the technology provides a slew of benefits for an enterprise desktop environment. As in the case of server virtualization, a big benefit of application virtualization is lower total cost of ownership, says Warren Wilson, client solutions practice director at research firm Summit Strategies (recently acquired by Ovum). Wilson can rattle off many other benefits of application virtualization, such as improved systems stability, fewer crashes, improved uptime - all of which lead to higher worker productivity and a leaner, less-burdened help desk operation, he says.

You can even hit the road with application virtualization, Wilson adds. Technology from ZeoSoft Technology Group turns a handheld PDA into a mobile server that can interact with other PDAs, providing them containerized applications in peer-to-peer fashion. "That's an extension of virtualization into new areas," he says.

Knowing where to look

So, where do you start? You can get going by looking at those vendors pitching application virtualization software. These include IBM (through its 2005 acquisition of Meiosys); Softricity (which Microsoft acquired earlier this year); and start-up Trigence. Each vendor has its own twist, but the general idea is application isolation - that is, virtualization, which is the critical element in making the desktop infrastructure more flexible.

Beyond getting up to speed on application virtualization, understand how traditional desktop software vendors, such as Altiris and Citrix, are handling virtualization - more from the user interface than the applications themselves - and how other vendors are tackling virtualization at the operating system layer. Two vendors offering the latter type of virtualization are Sun, with its Solaris Containers, and start-up SWsoft, with its Virtuozzo software. And be receptive to listening to new companies as they come to you with their virtualization pitches - you might spot some gems among them. None of these virtualization technologies need be mutually exclusive.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.