The future of virtualization: Areas for growth and concern

On the surface, the future of virtualization is bright. But, as more workloads are virtualized, new and complex infrastructure problems arise.

As competition heats up among hypervisor vendors and IT shops virtualizing more workloads, it's easy to infer the future of virtualization is bright. But a closer look at the data shows a mixed bag: There are growth opportunities for hypervisor vendors, but organizations may face challenges as they extend existing deployments.

The future of virtualization: Reading the tea leaves

According to TechTarget survey data, organizations are deploying virtualization across more physical servers. In 2011, more than 40% of survey respondents reported using virtualization on at least a quarter of their servers, while another 30% of respondents used virtualization on up to half of their servers. This is a notable jump from 2010 deployments.

VMware was the first to enter the virtualization market, and it remains a clear leader. Other hypervisors such as Hyper-V are gaining ground -- primarily because Windows-based data centers are so widely deployed. No startups are likely to displace today's leading vendors because of the economics; no vendors are entering the hypervisor market today.

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The number of virtualized workloads deployed on each physical server has also increased. In 2011, 50% of survey respondents reported running fewer than 10 workloads per physical server, 35% ran 10 to 20 workloads per server, and 10% ran 21 to 30 workloads per server. This was a slight increase over 2010. Most organizations have not yet scaled up to maximize the utilization of their physical servers, and instead are opting to scale out to virtualize more servers.

Many other companies such as Core180, Ubuntu (Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) and HP (through acquisitions like OpsWare) are also embracing the cloud for scaling options. These build on virtualization by bringing more automation and "self-service" to enterprise users and freeing IT from mundane provisioning or related tasks.

"More companies will continue to evaluate moving their production environments to a private cloud or hybrid cloud environment as they refresh their hardware," Chris Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data, said. "More now that the management tools exist to truly manage and maintain these types of environments."

Obstacles that may dampen the future of virtualization

But challenges remain as organizations work to master and manage virtualization technology. One of the most common challenges with virtualization is virtual machine sprawl: the uncontrolled proliferation of virtual machines across the data center. VMs each use computing resources. If those VMs are not used -- or not removed when they're no longer needed -- they still continue to use resources. This can eventually lead to shortages of computing resources that organizations must grapple with. The careful application of management tools and business processes can help to address the issue of VM sprawl.

TechTarget survey respondents report a variety of other challenges with virtualization, including problems with server performance, application compatibility, I/O bottlenecks, costs and the availability of knowledgeable IT staffers. These challenges are expected to abate as virtualization becomes more ubiquitous, but new adopters should understand the potential problems before committing to a wide-scale adoption of the technology.

A major barrier to the future of virtualization is that administrators need to learn and understand how virtualization is deployed, managed and maintained. As more IT admins discover and master the nuances of virtualization, enterprise adoption will increase.

Ultimately, server virtualization has emerged as an enabling technology for most data centers, and virtualization vendors are responding to the changes and challenges of virtualization adoption. Hypervisors are improving in performance and stability while supporting more operating systems, storage subsystems and underlying hardware components.

Virtualization expert Bill Kleyman said he believes this trend will continue along with a focus on applications. "Hypervisor and virtualization vendors are seeking to gain more traction in the application validation space," he said. "They really want to ensure that any software package is able to run well on a virtualized platform."

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