Virtually Speaking: Surveying the Landscape

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Nov 6, 2007


Amy Newman
Vendor-sponsored research is typically viewed by the press with skepticism, but a recent report produced for Symantec sheds light on virtualization and data center consolidation.

By default, the press tends to view vendor-sponsored surveys with suspicion. For starters, the surveys are often a dime a dozen. Then there's the fact that vendors are in the business of selling product, not producing impartial research, so the perception of an agenda behind the research hovers.

This is probably why the release of Symantec's survey results last week didn't seem terribly noteworthy or interesting at first. A deeper examination, however, proved otherwise.

The breadth of the survey, in terms of coverage and sample pool, is unprecedented, Matt Fairbanks, senior director of product marketing in the Data Center Management Group at Symantec told Serverwatch. To his knowledge, "this is the first such survey undertaken, ever, on such a global basis."

Symantec's State of the Data Center report was, indeed, a massive undertaking. The company surveyed 800 data center managers from 14 countries online and then brought 71 into focus groups. Although it did not specifically seek out Symantec shops, because of the company's varied offerings and strong presence in data centers, particularity in the demographic of companies it was surveying (primarily Fortune 2000 companies with at least 31,000 end users), many of those participating did turn out to be customers.

The State of the Data Center survey focused, as its name implies, on data center costs, staffing, and data center strategies and technologies. One of the goals of the survey was determining if these issues were universal, Fairbanks said.

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Complexity is the underlying issue with which nearly all data centers managers grapple. The survey found rapidly rising service level agreements (SLAs), staffing difficulties, increasing expenditures and data center growth to be the most common culprits.

The solution? Symantec found many organization are using virtualization and server consolidation to manage the complexity. Whether that is a sound strategy is unclear, as virtualization introduces a world of its own complexities.

Server virtualization and consolidation were found to be considered the top cost containment strategies for the majority of respondents, with some regional variations.

Fairbanks said the survey found U.S. companies to be more focused on consolidation than their rest-of-world counterparts, with 75 percent of U.S. data centers consolidating compared to 45 percent. He noted, "Europe [and other regions] are lagging the United States by 12 to 18 months in virtualization and other technologies." Adoption rates in other regions will catch up, however, he said.

The survey found consolidation and virtualization to be tightly coupled. A whopping 91 percent of respondents are discussing server consolidation, and 58 percent are implementing consolidation strategies. Is virtualization the path to consolidation? Perhaps: 90 percent of respondents are investigating server virtualization, and 50 percent are implementing virtualization strategies.

In terms of applications, 59 percent of respondents cited Web applications as the most likely to be moved into a virtual environment, followed, at 42 percent, by database management applications.

Fairbanks noted, however, that these applications by and large are not transaction database apps. Fairbanks estimated about 20 percent to 25 percent of mission-critical apps are also being virtualized.

Storage is being virtualized as well: 75 percent of respondents are considering storage virtualization as a potential solution.

As interesting as these numbers are, they are not necessarily cause for jubilation. Although 90 percent is certainly nothing to disparage, x86 virtualization is still a fairly nascent technology, and it's too soon to tell where the chips will ultimately fall.

Even more importantly, the motivation behind the numbers provides pause. Analysts and others in the field have been vocal that virtualization is not a cure for complexity, rather it introduces a whole other level of its own. Virtualization and consolidation have long been associated, and it's doubtful anyone would argue with their relationship. However, companies attracted to virtualization because they believe it will simplify their data centers, with or without consolidation, must take a closer look at the technology.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001.

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