Server virtualization technology has had a major affect on data centers, and more changes are on the way. Here are five trends that will likely shape the future of enterprise computing:Server virtualization technology trend No. 1: Virtual server backup
The next 12 to 24 months promise an evolution rather than a revolution for virtual backups. Server virtualization technology is quickly going mainstream, and vendors of all sizes are moving to provide virtual support for a variety of product types. Even disk defragmentation tools like Diskeeper are now virtualization-aware.
As virtualization tools continue to evolve, other backup tools should become more extensible, interoperable and transparent. Backup agents should also become more efficient, reducing their installation footprint on individual virtual machines (VMs).
Virtual backup improvements should also be driven by fierce competition among VMware, Citrix Systems, Inc. and Microsoft. End users can only benefit from this competition, which should also trickle down to the third-party backup product vendors.Server virtualization technology trend No. 2: IT staffing
Experts say they see little perceptible change in IT staffing in the near future. Well-trained and motivated people still play a crucial role in provisioning, management and maintenance activities.
Still, some staffing changes are on the horizon. Ongoing concern with the global economy and a tighter business focus on IT will keep head counts tight. Companies will increasingly turn to staffing alternatives to tackle important IT projects. Personnel decisions also need a clearer consideration of critical technologies, considering their rapid deployment in data centers.
CompTIA research indicates that security, general networking and soft skills will be critical for IT professionals five years from now. The need for IT services is certainly not expected to wane, but some companies may eventually opt to trim IT positions, as management improves or core IT functions are outsourced to managed service providers. Conversely, other companies may choose to maintain or even increase staffing levels to implement and manage new cost-saving or revenue-producing projects that are vital to the bottom line.Server virtualization technology trend No. 3: Virtual management
Today, there is a wide assortment of server virtualization monitoring and management tools. Some offerings cover narrow niches, but most harness the wealth of system data collected normally by the hypervisor.
The value of niche tools, however, may be waning as better APIs and development tools appear, allowing organizations to develop tools that are tailored to their environments from the start.
Integration is another important area for development, so expect future monitoring and management tools to integrate with other infrastructure elements, such as storage and network components. The goal is to monitor the infrastructure through a single dashboard.
Administrators should expect to see more automation features, too. Automation allows the assignment of more resources to a virtualized application or the migration of an application to another server when certain utilization parameters occur. This kind of behavior will reduce direct human interaction and rein in costs, while making a data center more adaptive.
Automation should also extend to users -- allowing employees, customers and partners to set up and provision their own environments or applications. This, in turn, will minimize the load on administrators, who can then focus on more important data center tasks.Server virtualization technology trend No. 4: Configuration management
Expect more features and functionality, as monitoring, paging, alerting and offline patching are being incorporated into configuration management tools. Although this can add value to offerings, it also can complicate matters during product selection and implementation -- making it harder for administrators to choose the best product for their environment. Expect a tighter integration of configuration management capabilities into operating systems or hardware devices, as well.
Tools are also getting more independent, with the ability to manage groups and automate actions to keep the network running. They are also incorporating more analytical features, but this is affecting their footprint on client systems, especially in agent-based products.
Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager 2007's Desired Configuration Management (DCM) capability is an example of intelligence and autonomy in configuration management. DCM allows the creation of standard profiles that can configure systems within a given group.Server virtualization technology trend No. 5: Networking technologies
Many new possibilities exist for interconnecting virtual and physical networks. Currently, there isn't a silver bullet in the market, even though there is a number of emerging network technologies. Instead, you'll likely use a combination of technologies in coming years.
That said, it's a good time to consider distributed virtual switches, security VM appliances, single-root I/O virtualization and multi-root I/O virtualization and VM load balancers, as well as begin to pilot new products. Much of the traditional physical network access layer -- including switches, security and eventually routing functions -- are moving to the virtual infrastructure.
Virtualizing network access layer devices opens up a great deal of architectural and administrative flexibility and improves VM mobility. At the same time, it creates new management and IT procedural challenges that will have to be addressed.
Also, converged Ethernet and improvements in isolation technology, monitoring and security enforcement provide the foundation for a virtual network infrastructure that securely supports multi-tenants or multiple security subzones. Security audit and compliance standards, as well as interpretations, will catch up to the new technology. Once they do, we'll be at a point where we'll view traditional physical network infrastructure and supporting physical appliances as legacy devices.
Stephen J. Bigelow, a senior technology writer in the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group at TechTarget Inc., has more than 15 years of technical writing experience in the PC/technology industry. He holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, along with CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+ and Server+ certifications, and has written hundreds of articles and more than 15 feature books on computer troubleshooting, including Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference and Bigelow's PC Hardware Annoyances. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.