The password into the midmarket data center for 2008 may be virtualization. Not only will the new year see virtualization software vendors continuing to focus on server virtualization, but other key initiatives will also have their roots in virtualization technology, including blade servers designed for the midrange, remote services based on virtual machines, virtual desktops and green computing.
For the data center manager in the midmarket, all of this activity can add up to savings on hardware and utilities, ease of management and, perhaps of most importance, new disaster recovery capabilities.
"Server virtualization has been growing for a couple of years, but I think it's really starting to hit the mainstream,'' said Gary Chen, an analyst at Boston-based research firm Yankee Group Research Inc. "There will be a lot more competition and a lot more product available."
With VMware Inc. already well established in the virtualization market, experts are watching for a push by Microsoft, which will bring fresh virtualization tools to the market in conjunction with the early 2008 release of Windows Server 2008, and a midmarket focus from Citrix Systems Inc., which acquired open source vendor XenSource Inc. in August.
More than consolidation
Midmarket managers considering virtualization should look for benefits beyond consolidation, which has driven virtualization technology in many large enterprises, according to experts.
"It will certainly be consolidation for some people. You are going to save space, use less hardware, power and cooling. However, most midrange companies don't have an infrastructure of the scale to have consolidation as a main driver," Chen said. For many midmarket companies, a key use for virtualization will be backup and disaster recovery. "Virtualization really makes those advanced setups, where you can restore in less than an hour, pretty practical and pretty affordable,'' he added.
Mark Bowker, an analyst at The Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., reports that 70% of IT managers who indicated in a recent survey that they plan to implement server virtualization will do so during the next year.
Virtualization allows a manager to store a virtual machine as an image in a single file. "I can make copies of that image and ship them offsite to another location or put it on a disk and have it ready to go,'' he said.
Blades were kind of an enterprise thing, but now they are more affordable, and they go well with virtualization initiatives.
Gary Chen, analyst, Yankee Group Research Inc.
In addition to enabling a disaster recovery strategy, virtualization technology improves server utilization and makes server management easier, according to Bowker. "I think cost is what makes them first look at virtualization. Going through procurement for a new physical server is painful. They say, 'Let's try this out so we don't have to buy a new server.' Then they see that they can manage all of their virtual machines from a single management console. That makes it so much easier," he said.
A key moment for the midmarket will be the release of Microsoft's Virtual Server, scheduled to appear initially as beta code with the general release of Windows Server 2008 early in the year and then as production code six months later. Bowker noted that the Microsoft offering may be attractive in the midmarket because it will be free as part of Windows Server. However, he also cautioned that Virtual Server's impact will depend in part on whether Microsoft meets its deadlines, how well it addresses needs such as high availability, and how well it scales. For some users, their applications and management needs may dictate a move to a more proven and robust product, such as VMware, he said.
Experts expect a variety of vendors to do more in 2008 to package virtualization offerings for price-conscious midmarket customers, and to ease migration to virtual servers by more closely integrating products such as conversion utilities with system management tools.
Chen said he advises midmarket managers to plan carefully as they move into virtualization technology, and added that software vendors are positioned to help them project workloads and consolidation ratios.
The experts identified several other virtualization-related trends for 2008:
- Hardware vendors, including Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., will continue to make progress in reducing the performance penalty that certain workloads, including those with heavy I/O requirements, encounter in virtual environments, according to Chen.
- There may be more interest in a "small but emerging trend" to use virtualization services, hosted virtual machines run by off-site services that users can access on a utility basis, Chen said.
- Desktop virtualization is "on everyone's short list," according to Bowker, who noted that the XenSource acquisition helps position Citrix as an "end-to-end" provider. With desktop virtualization, desktop images are consolidated in a single database, which allows access from throughout an organization while also enabling IT to more easily patch and manage images. Bowker said he expects security concerns to drive desktop virtualization in 2008, starting with highly regulated industries such as health care and financial services.
- Chen said he expects hardware vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. to target the midmarket with special packages of blade servers with a focus on affordability and simplified deployment. "Blades were kind of an enterprise thing, but now they are more affordable, and they go well with virtualization initiatives,'' he said, adding that some servers will be available with virtualization software embedded in the systems.
- Virtualization and blades also are building blocks for green computing, at least that part of green computing that emphasizes reduced power and cooling, Chen said. "Green IT has gotten super hot lately," he said. "For the midrange of the market, it's not like people have the scale that would impact a lot, but it's something nice to do, and it doesn't cost a lot. Power savings are a nice win-win for everyone."
James M. Connolly is a contributing writer based in Norwood, Mass. Let us know what you think about this tip; email firstname.lastname@example.org.