Virtualisation to see huge growth: Gartner

The number of virtualised machines will multiply, firm says

Virtualisation will be the biggest driver for IT infrastructure and operations spending over the next several years, according to recent research from Gartner.

The research firm has named virtualisation the "highest-impact trend" for IT through 2012, predicting it will determine how IT administrators manage, buy, deploy and plan their future strategies. And it won't just be the major enterprises that jump on the virtualisation bandwagon.

"To be honest, most of the growth for virtualisation thus far has been in the (large) enterprises," says Phillip Lawson, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "VMware has been fairly monolithic in its success, but we think as Microsoft enters we're going to see the mid-range and smaller enterprises really open up and adopt virtualisation."

The driving factor behind the growth, according to Gartner, will be server virtualisation, which the research firm says contributed to a 4% drop in the x86 server market in 2006. The report states that about 90% of the server market is composed of x86 architecture servers. Based on the traditional model of one application per server, Gartner said, roughly 80-90% of server computing capacity is unutilised.

Gartner analysts also predict that more than four million virtual machines will be installed on x86 servers by next year — which is almost as many virtual PCs in operation today. David Lynch, vice-president of marketing at Canada's Embotics Corporation, agreed with the report's findings, saying virtualized server adoption will only continue to increase as companies see its benefits beyond mere server consolidation.

"I think server virtualisation is one of the biggest impact points," Lynch, whose company released a virtual machine life-cycle management tool called the V-Commander last September, says. "It started with consolidation, which to me is a low hanging fruit and a very quick return on investment. But once customers start using it for consolidation, they quickly realise how powerful this technology is and something that started as a tool can soon become critical architecture."

And with server virtualisation allowing organisations to quickly provision virtual machines within a matter of minutes, Gartner says another strong factor in the virtualisation boom will be the significant growth of virtual PC deployment. The research group expects the number of virtualised machines to grow from less than five million in 2007 to about 660 million by 2011.

While Lynch agrees that the number of virtual PCs will increase over the next few years, he feels Gartner's forecast might be a bit too optimistic. "Most organisations that we're talking to are really focused on the server side," he says. "On the desktop side, it really ties in with replacement cycles. If anyone is thinking about the desktop side, they're thinking about some laptops they may have that need to be upgrade. I don't think a lot of companies are considering this type of thing ahead of time," he says.

With the virtualisation industry already starting to get a little crowded, Gartner says enterprises can expect this competition to play out both in the market and in the users' IT infrastructure. As a result, the research firm advises virtualisation adopters to avoid following one specific vendor's vision and develop their own heterogeneous infrastructure.

"You need to understand your own application portfolio, what to virtualise and what not to virtualise," Lawson says. "Have a pragmatic approach to virtualising your infrastructure and don't assume one size fits all." Lawson says the factors that will help drive this along are broader scaling of virtualised environments in the hardware and better common management processes for the applications.

"If you look at the system management capabilities of virtualisation vendors, it's not the big players that are succeeding at the moment, it's all the small tools guys," he says.

And as one of the "smaller guys", Lynch says Embotics has worked to partner with many of the bigger virtualisation movers and shakers like VMware, Microsoft and Citrix because many customers will utilise all three of their products. Tools like V-Commander, he says, will help bridge the gap in many companies' virtualised environments.

"Hypervisor technology is getting rapidly commoditised and what really makes it work are the management systems," Lynch says. "No one wants to manage the virtual and physical data centres in two different ways, so we're starting to see folks like ourselves integrate the physical space into the server space and I think that's what will also help accelerate growth."

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