Virtualization Gets Real
An interview with Thomas Bittman, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst
How fast and in what direction is virtualization growing? Gartner Analyst Tom Bittman explores the great divide between large enterprise and small and midsize business deployments-and explains the how's and why's of the different challenges confronting each. From managing organizational change and VM sprawl to controlling costs and developing a strategy for private cloud computing, get the latest insight and information about virtualization processes and from one of the world's most qualified experts-a preview of what you'll learn about virtualization at Symposium/ITxpo this fall.
Q. When it comes to virtualization, what should be on our radar right now?
A. There are two waves of virtualization taking place. It's actually not a new concept, as the trend has been going since 2001. Over the last nine years, large enterprises were the first to virtualize, and we've seen the Global 1000 virtualizing at a steady pace. The original motivation was strictly cost � to consolidate from 10 servers down to one, for example, or reduce energy and avoid data center buildup. Now, however, it's a tale of two worlds; for many large enterprises, virtualization is more about the benefits � the value and the new things that they can do. Agility is probably the top attribute they get out of virtualization. For example, they can deploy servers 30 times faster; if it took two months before, it now takes two days.
The other world, one that kicked in about a year ago, is small and midsize business. Many of them, because of price or lots of other reasons, really didn't virtualize those first six or seven years. Then, last year, things really changed. Now, small and midsize businesses are saying what the large enterprises were saying eight or nine years ago: virtualization is about consolidation and saving money. The difference is that they tend to deploy all at once. It may take a large enterprise six or seven years to go through all of their servers, while we've seen small and midsize companies go from 0% to 100% virtualized in a few months.
Q. What aspect of virtualization are large enterprises struggling with?
A. Again, it's a tale of two worlds. Leading-edge large enterprise users are typically focused more on process, organizational and cultural change, funding and chargeback changes�all the things that are required as you abstract. Abstraction is not just about technology; it also changes the relationship between the customer and IT.
The other issue is that demand has skyrocketed. Companies are saying now that they need more tools to help them with virtual machine sprawl and life-cycle management. They're looking at chargeback for the first time, a way to create friction in this model so that customers don't ask for more than they can deliver.
Q. What are the issues for small and midsize companies?
A. When it comes to virtualization, most small and midsize businesses are mostly just starting out. What's different for them is that they have choice. It used to be that there was essentially one VM solution, but now we have a real market with multiple players � and it's a lot more difficult for small and midsize businesses to make the right decision than it was for an early adopter. Choice is not a bad thing, but we think it matters because what they choose to virtualize actually determines their future architecture, in particular cloud and private cloud in the future. The issue is that you have a dominant player, an up-and- comer and seven or eight others providers who are scrambling for the leavings.
Q. How is virtualization helping to control costs?
A. Three big things, the first being reducing capital costs in servers. Instantly, it helps reduce hardware. Virtualization can also help save money by conserving energy, which is very real, measurable and a big savings. The third area of savings is in data center space. If I'm busting at the seams in my data center and I'm going to have to have a strategy over the next two years to build out, virtualization could put a halt to that. It could allow me to live within my existing data center for years.
But those are all capital and hardware costs. A misconception out there among users is that virtualization may also save on operational costs � but we don't believe so. In fact, we think operational costs might initially go up a little bit as you virtualize, because you have this new layer to manage. Of course, if you get good at it, and start to leverage virtualization to automate more and more things, you can definitely bring down operational costs � but it's going to be awhile.
Q. What about security? Is that an issue for virtualized companies?
A. It is, but there are two sides to consider. On the negative side, virtualization provides a management console that can control a large pool, a hypervisor that's a new attack surface for a virus, perhaps; however, our research shows that this surface is a tiny percentage of the overall issue. The much bigger issue is operations. In other words, if you manage a virtualized environment badly; if you don't continue to have separation of control between secure and non-secure workloads; if you bunch it all together in one big pool and manage it that way, you're going to have problems.
On the other side, we also see positives. Virtualization allows you to "containerize" an application and operating system; and things like agents, that used to be inside trying to watch the world around them � and could themselves be affected by an attack � can now be pulled outside and can actually monitor a virtual machine and its behavior from the outside. Virtualization is creating some new and interesting mechanisms to help you secure your workloads. It's immature at this point, but there are lots of possibilities there.
Q. Where else do you see virtualization going in the next five years?
A. One of the big things for large enterprises over the next five years will be the move to private cloud computing and hybrid cloud models. Through 2015, virtualization for large enterprises will be about serving as the basis for private cloud computing. Our surveys show that 75% of midsize and large enterprises see private cloud in their futures, and that among large enterprises at least that many are planning to spend more money on private cloud computing than public cloud computing over the next three years at least. I think what we'll see when we look back at this five years from now is a huge transition from a concept of simply virtualization as an end unto itself to turning virtualization into a foundation for private cloud architectures. They want cloud computing, but they don't trust other providers, so they want it internally first. And then, within the five-year time frame, they want the ability to have a hybrid model � with the idea that they may eventually migrate to the public cloud completely, but they want to do it in an evolutionary manner.
Small businesses are virtualizing, too. However, they will see a lot more "economy-of-scale" value from moving to cloud computing; so for them, virtualization is going to help them change their culture, their processes and their usage of IT internally and make the switch. Five years from now, I think you're going to see a lot of small companies that use virtualization as a launching pad to completely move to the cloud.