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Is Virtualization Hitting the Wall?

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Mar 3, 2011


A new survey by Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) in Beaverton, Ore., reveals that although users are continuing to move to virtualized x86 infrastructures, there are signs that the runaway train of virtualization may well be slowing down.

A recent survey of x86 virtualization penetration shows few enterprises exceeding 50 percent and many running into SLA issues.

But first the good news: Most users report the biggest benefit for virtualization is that it allows them to get more use out of existing systems. The vast majority, too, have virtualized some of their servers. However, less than half have managed to surpass the 50 percent mark in terms of overall server virtualization.

Perhaps more troubling is a survey finding about service level agreements (SLAs). Virtualization has long been touted as the way to increase IT efficiency and the path to a cloud Nirvana where resources are dispatched on a utility-like basis. Just hit the switch and the desired amount of processing power is made available instantly. Unfortunately, it isn't working out like that in the real world. According to GCG, only about half of around 200 respondents find virtualized systems easier to manage or help them meet their SLAs.

Dan Olds, principal of GCG, said he believes this relates to virtual server sprawl. It's so easy to set up a virtual machine (VM) that IT departments are spawning thousands of them and losing track of them in the process.

"Survey scores on virtualization manageability are flat or dropping," said Olds. "These scores are a sign that current virtualization management suites aren't getting the job done or that customers aren't taking full advantage of them."

Despite that roadblock, more than 50 percent expect a virtualized x86 platform will become the dominant usage model over time. While most expect VMware to remain king of the hill, GCG numbers cast some doubts on it maintaining its virtual empire.

Of enterprises that have virtualized x86 servers, 82 percent admitted to having at least some VMware in their virtual infrastructure. However, 70 percent use more than one virtualization tool, and more than a quarter use four or more environments. Clearly, end users are experimenting with additional virtualization platforms.

Microsoft Hyper-V is the second most prevalent virtualization tool per the survey, with 42 percent of those surveyed using it. Only 3 percent, however, have standardized on that approach.

"Hyper-V has built a following based on ease of use, a solid feature set, a very low price and the massive Microsoft-centric user base," said Olds.

Next came Citrix Xen, used by around 33 percent of survey respondents, followed by KVM at 31 percent, which is incorporated into Red Hat and other Linux variants. Sun and Oracle virtualization platforms scored low in the survey.

Olds interprets these results to mean that interesting times lie ahead in terms of a highly competitive virtualization marketplace.

"VMware is still the dominant virtualization vendor by a wide margin, but we were surprised to see a large percentage of customers (71 percent) using two or more virtualization tools," said Olds. "Some of this is customer tire-kicking, but we’re also seeing that they are selecting particular virtualization products for specific tasks. Given this, we see a more competitive virtualization market in the future."

Vendors' Virtualization Preferences

GCG also delved into the area of support for consolidation and virtualization, to determine which vendors were best in that category. In past years, IBM and HP have tied on this question, with Dell and Oracle/Sun bringing up the rear. This year, however, was different as IBM shot into the lead in the minds of the users polled.

"This is mainly due to the new systems IBM introduced in 2010," said Olds. "With that launch, they brought out virtualization-centric servers optimized for handling multiple workloads (more memory, pre-loaded virtualization, virtualization management, etc.) This has helped them carve out a spot as the virtualization vendor of choice in 2010."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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