2021 virtualization trends focus on HCI, Kubernetes

Organizations require easier, quicker ways to spin up and manage virtual workloads. This year, container support and DevOps help admins ensure VMs and legacy apps exist harmoniously.

Virtualization fundamentals remain relatively unaltered in 2021, but the technology admins use to implement and manage virtual servers continues to evolve. To build more flexible, adaptable virtualized workflows, many organizations now look to use DevOps and cloud-native offerings in their data centers.

Other virtualization trends focus on infrastructure with increased Kubernetes support in hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and bare-metal deployments, as well as the use of containers. These advancements give IT teams a wide variety of options for how they deploy their virtualized applications within the data center.

The full effect of cloud-native technologies -- as well as such forces as cloud computing, hybrid clouds and edge computing -- is still in the early stages. Whatever occurs, virtualization will not survive unscathed, and it will grow along with other data center technologies to meet the demands of tomorrow's workloads.

DevOps and HCI among top virtualization trends

More organizations have embraced DevOps methodologies and cloud-native technologies such as containerization, microservices and serverless computing. IT teams implement HCI to help simplify operations and more effectively support virtualized workloads.

Given these trends, it's no surprise vendors choose to enhance their HCI products to better accommodate DevOps and cloud-native applications.

This is most apparent with the growing number of HCI appliances that integrate Kubernetes for container orchestration. An HCI appliance that helps simplify Kubernetes implementations is an inviting prospect for many IT teams, especially because most also run traditional applications and will continue to do in the foreseeable future; however, Kubernetes can be difficult to deploy and maintain if done incorrectly.

Top HCI vendors already integrate Kubernetes into their offerings. VMware has Kubernetes on its vSphere control plane, which is part of the VMware Cloud Foundation HCI software stack. Nutanix's HCI software stack has Nutanix Karbon, an enterprise-grade Kubernetes management tool that is fully integrated into the Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor.

HCI and Kubernetes give containerized workloads virtualization-like capabilities. VMs provide secure environments that are independent of each other, which makes it easier to protect applications, even in highly regulated circumstances. Containers that run on bare metal cannot achieve the same level of isolation and, as such, are more difficult to secure.

This isolation lets DevOps teams deploy multiple, independent VMs that can accommodate different workload requirements and avoid potential application conflicts. The virtualization software that drives an HCI typically supports VM templates, which make it easy to spin up VMs much more quickly than a physical server deployment.

HCI also comes with advanced tooling and quality assurance features for managing VMs and their configurations. Virtual servers that host DevOps tools or containers can use snapshots or automated backups, as well as monitoring and analytics. Many HCI offerings also provide APIs for third-party tool integration that lets DevOps teams automate and orchestrate operations for continuous integration and delivery.

These HCI offerings benefit DevOps and cloud-native technologies multiple ways, in no small part because of how virtualization plays into service delivery. But virtualization does stand to gain from DevOps and container-friendly HCI.

Such technologies force virtualization tools to accommodate modern applications, rather than limiting themselves to traditional applications; virtualization software must be flexible enough to handle both workload types for continued adoption.

Many DevOps tools now support virtual deployments, which signifies virtual servers continue to play a pivotal role in application delivery. The Puppet orchestration tool integrates with VMware vRealize Automation and enables DevOps teams to create VM templates and automate self-service provisioning. And the Chef infrastructure automation tool makes it possible to deploy infrastructure as code on multiple node types, including VMs.

There's also a growing effort to create software that can support VMs and containers more easily. KubeVirt is a Kubernetes add-on that makes it possible to support containerized applications, as well as those applications that cannot be easily containerized. It enables DevOps teams to build, deploy and orchestrate applications that reside in both containers and VMs alongside each other.

Bare-metal deployments, composable infrastructure on the horizon

Newer technologies and virtualization trends bring questions about server virtualization's future. Most organizations will support virtualized workloads for some time to come, but there's a growing trend toward running containers on bare metal that's making admins curious.

Diamanti has a container-geared appliance that bundles CentOS, Docker and Kubernetes. The appliance runs them on bare metal, as opposed to VMs. An organization that deploys only the latest applications can bypass VMs altogether.

Other industry efforts, such as the GVisor application kernel, provide an additional layer of isolation to run sandboxed containers, which eliminates the use of VMs for infrastructure segmentation.

It's still unclear whether admins will decide to implement separate software setups for their legacy and nonlegacy applications -- a return to the days of siloed infrastructure -- or if they are more inclined to embrace systems such as container-friendly HCI appliances. But this is not a straightforward choice.

Many IT teams have also considered composable disaggregated infrastructure (CDI) for their data centers. CDI offers the ability to run workloads on bare metal and VMs. With CDI, organizations can deploy their legacy and nonlegacy workloads according to their specific needs. Though this doesn't portend the end of server virtualization, CDI could prove a serious disruptor in the HCI market.

It's possible, in fact, that HCI and CDI may morph into a common effort or result in another type of replacement system. Even if this does occur, there is still virtual workload support in the foreseeable future.

Processing power will continue to grow for HCI offerings. VMware recently announced plans to extend its VMware Cloud Foundation to support smart network interface controller (NIC) technology from Intel, Nvidia and Pensando Systems. These new types of NICs -- also referred to as data processing units -- offload processing tasks that CPUs typically handle, which enable VMware virtual setups to support even more demanding workloads.

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