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Gartner's Bittman predicts virtualization's future benefits and hassles

IT managers will find virtualization useful for speeding through deployments and balancing compute power, says Gartner's Tom Bittman. But tracking VMs will be a hassle.

Initially touted as a cost-effective way to consolidate physical servers, virtualization will soon be used for more than just hardware savings, according to Tom Bittman, a vice president at Gartner Research in Stamford, Conn. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on where the technology is headed. What are some emerging and practical uses for virtualization in IT, other than server consolidation?

Tom Bittman: The driving force for virtualization is consolidation. People see the idea of reducing hardware spend or boxes as a very attractive reason for using virtualization. But then the second phase is: 'Wow, now that I have this in place, things are different.'

And DR (disaster recovery) is huge. I would say about 70% of people who are deploying virtualization for x86 servers are also doing DR for the first time for many of their servers. That is a very, very big deal.

Speed of deployment is another major factor. For many early, large users of virtualization, the barrier to entry for deploying new servers has gone down dramatically. I've heard specific examples from users who say it has gone from taking four months to four days to deploy a server using virtualization. That's a statement about the technology making it possible to be much more agile and responsive to business. In recent Gartner research, you refer to virtual machine relocation tools as emerging technology that will be important in the future. Why?

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Bittman: Virtual relocation tools allow you to move a virtual machine clear off a physical server to another location. VMotion from VMware Inc. is the first example of this kind of tool. Xen is also planning on releasing a relocation tool, and Microsoft will release one with their hypervisor solution.

The primary use for VM relocation in IT will be for planned downtime in an instance where someone needs to upgrade hardware or do maintenance. A number of people are already using VMotion for this reason today.

A secondary and perhaps more strategic use of VM relocation tools from an infrastructure standpoint is for automatically balancing computer power in a farm. What really would be valuable is automation driving that, so an IT manager does not have to monitor all of the physical hardware and see where there are capacity issues. This kind of automation has been introduced by VMware in version 3, so we expect other vendors to follow suit. As virtualization becomes more pervasive, what do you hear about in terms of challenges when using this technology?

Bittman: Keeping track of VMs is an issue. Because it is so easy to deploy a new server, people need to be cautious about deploying more than they can handle. Once you have another server out there, someone has to manage it. And, it is taking up space so you better make sure someone is using it. Imagine a scenario where there are 1,000 virtual machines and only 700 are being used. That is a lot of administrative effort going to waste.

It's a different beast with physical servers. Although server sprawl is always hard, at least you can point to a physical server and know it is there. With a VM, it is a lot easier for it to get lost.

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