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Virtualization levels have peaked, so what's next?

Now that virtualization is a mature technology, organizations should be looking to further refine their infrastructure and consider the next step.

By many accounts -- not the least of which is VMware's declining vSphere bookings -- the x86 sever virtualization market is starting to slow. It's safe to say that virtualization has matured, but are there still areas for growth? This month, we're putting the question about the future of virtualization to our Advisory Board members. Do you think server virtualization levels have reached their peak and will now start to decline in favor of cloud computing or containerization? And, for the organization that is already highly virtualized, what does life after virtualization look like?

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

Today we no longer hear the call to virtualize all things, not because we stopped liking virtualization, but because many have already done so. The physical-to-virtual migration tool sits idle; there are no more piles of hardware to remove from the data center. The virtualization effort has succeeded and the hardware beast has been tamed. So the question becomes, now what?

There is always the cloud, or even containers, right? Well if you're a development shop, containers could be ideal and a great place to start the next leg of your journey. However, not all organizations develop code -- in fact, a lot don't. Containers and self-service portals are things many organizations simply don't have a need for or interest in.

Everyone needed virtualization; it didn't matter if you were a Silicon Valley startup or a manufacturing company in the Midwest. Virtualization brought something to the table for everyone and it was incredibly successful. Now that virtualization levels have stabilized, what is next? To some, the hypervisor is a commodity as focus has shifted to DevOps, cloud, networking, automation and other groups. While all of these have value to different business types and segments, there is still one focus that is common to all businesses and segments: security.

It's hard to go a week now without seeing another breech or data theft in the news. It's becoming so common place we don't even blink when millions of records are stolen. We lose national and military secrets to hackers and it feels like there is nothing we can do because we simply have too many holes to plug. With the data center somewhat under control, we have a chance to really start looking at software-defined networking and microsegmentation. Security has often taken a back seat to growth and cost controls, but as the wave of virtualization has slowed, now is the opportunity to step back and take an in-depth look at security. There are new technologies that can identify, address and ultimately prevent these massive data breaches.

Some companies will explore virtual desktops, DevOps, automation or the cloud, but one thing they will all share is a renewed focus on security.

Jim O'Reilly, Volanto

Server virtualization faces competition from both cloud methodologies and containers. With most companies planning for hybrid cloud installations, or even a move to software as a service, the need for cloud-based alternatives to traditional hypervisor virtualization is being addressed by OpenStack and -- to a lesser extent -- by Microsoft's Azure stack packaged onto inexpensive hardware.

Container technology, meanwhile, offers a different sort of threat, offering improved consolidation. That means fewer servers are needed. Most container implementations are built into VMs on a hypervisor for security reasons, but longer term, very thin hypervisors from the open source community will likely replace traditional platforms backing containers for new installations, while improved container security methods may make even these superfluous.

Container use is growing rapidly and acceptance is occurring much faster than the cloud. With a robust tool infrastructure becoming available, this is clearly a major threat to the ongoing need for hypervisors. The genie -- or perhaps the whale -- is totally out of the bottle and a large-scale move to containers is inevitable and occurring rapidly. This, along with the cloud, suggests that hypervisor virtualization has peaked.

This leaves the traditionally virtualized shop in a dilemma. Overall, the conversion to a hybrid cloud structure precludes running a virtualized cluster in-house. We have too many movements toward unified management to allow that to be a long-term best practice.

As companies transition, containers may run on hypervisor instances, and VMware is preparing for that, but the extra administrative cost, training and licenses are all liabilities, especially when simpler and more agile solutions exist.

With container and cloud pressures strong, the future of hypervisor-based virtualization looks bleak. We most likely have arrived at peak virtualization levels today. Clouds and containers will also affect server count, with the former replacing new server buys, while containers both shrink the server count needed for new installations and allow a new lease on life for existing gear. The innate resistance to revolutionary change in the IT industry will slow things down a bit, but the race to containers is growing at a fast pace.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, Cisco Video Technologies
It is no secret that virtualization is no longer a hype. Not long ago, finding a company that had virtualized more than 70% of its infrastructure was rare. Today, I think the scales have turned and the number of people who are not widely using some kind of virtualization are in the extreme minority.

I think we can definitely call it mainstream. So what is next?

I think it is safe to say that we are now in the cloud phase. Everyone is looking to monetize on the advantages of cloud. Be it private, public or some kind of hybrid approach. The problem is that there are major compatibility issues among the options today, and moving from one platform to another is practically impossible.

That is why many companies are looking toward containers, which are perceived, incorrectly, as a solution to all of their cloud problems.

Containers have their own issues; they represent a paradigm shift that most enterprise organizations today are not ready for, neither with their applications nor their organizational culture. It will be a while until we arrive at that next milestone where most enterprises will use containers in their day-to-day operations.

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

Server virtualization levels may not have reached their peak, but there is no doubt that the rate of growth has decreased as most large enterprise companies have implemented hypervisor technologies for the majority of their server infrastructure. With this slowed growth and a peak coming soon, it might be tempting to say, "What's next?"

If you are a service provider, such as VMware, Microsoft, or Amazon, answering the question of what's next will be the major factor in future success or even business viability, going forward. If you are an organization with a significant virtualization footprint, jumping to the cloud may not be something you or your workloads are ready for.

So what is next for the rest of us? First of all, start looking at emerging technologies. Containers -- with Docker or Windows -- and the various cloud services will be part of your future. Get on board and get familiar with the technologies.

The way I see it, more practical options exist to optimize your existing virtualized environment to increase efficiency, both technically and financially. Simple changes could be to add or replace RAM on existing servers allowing you to increase VM density and reduce hypervisor licensing. Hyper-converged hardware can also provide a dense, redundant hardware platform that is less reliant on more expensive SAN infrastructures. On that same note, look at VMware's Virtual SAN technology or Microsoft's Storage Spaces Direct, which provide performance and cut out the cost of traditional SAN infrastructures. Also look at potential hypervisor changes that might better align you with your future cloud goals or potentially decrease your licensing costs.

Server virtualization will be a staple inside most organizations for many years to come. The public cloud is coming and you should prepare, but first look at how you can make your local private environments more efficient.

Next Steps

How trends will de-emphasize the hypervisor

Bare-metal is hot again as virtualization plateaus

Why you should virtualize your last physical workloads

This was last published in June 2016

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How are you planning for what comes after virtualization?
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No matter if it's virtual environments on premise, cloud virtualization or containerization - the next step should be to optimize the usage and spend;

1. Automate the creation and removal of virtual resources
2. Ensure that virtual resources (e.g. vm:s) are automatically spun down once their no longer needed
3. Provide virtual resources the entire set of people within the company that may benefit from the use of them - through the service catalog and self service
4. Ensure that the virtual resources are tagged/registered with the relevant information to be able to do internal chargeback based on who used what.

This way the entire life cycle of the virtual resources can be controlled, provided to the right audience and really start to create value.
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