Does Virtualization Deliver on Its Promise?

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Jun 16, 2011


Thinking about storage virtualization, desktop virtualization, storage as a service, or a private or hybrid cloud? Well here's some news that you probably don't want to hear: None of these projects will deliver anything like the benefits you expect them to. Like a remake of your favorite TV show, they're almost bound to disappoint. Stick to server virtualization if you want something that won't let you down. Much.

A recent survey from Symantec found that for many respondents, virtualization fell short of expectations. Why? The technology underpinnings of some flavors of virtualization aren't quite there yet.

That, I'm afraid, is the experience of 3,700 enterprises around the world who have been there and done that when it comes to virtualization, and who replied to a survey called 2011 Virtualization Evolution to the Cloud, commissioned by Symantec and published this week.

Why so much disappointment? Here's the bland answer: Although server virtualization technology is relatively mature, the technology underpinning storage virtualization, storage as a service and hybrid/private clouds just isn't. John Magee, a Symantec vice president responsible for cloud and virtualization, has a far spicier answer: "People are not being realistic about what is possible right now. There are technology challenges that are not foreseen, there is hype, and there is overselling. There is still a lot of work to be done."

That's not to say server virtualization comes out smelling of roses. While it's true most organizations that tried it enjoyed improved scalability, reduced capex/opex and improved levels of uptime, there was still a 4 percent gap between the expected levels of these benefits and what they ended up actually achieving. So server virtualization did disappoint, but only a bit.

By contrast, when it comes to storage virtualization, organizations had hoped for increased scalability, reduced costs and improved storage performance. What they got was a great deal less than they had hoped for, with a whopping average gap of 33 percent between expectation and reality. Hybrid and private cloud computing initiatives were just as disappointing: Organizations were hoping to be able to achieve faster provisioning times, better data center scalability and improved data center security. But the gap between expectation and reality was a full 32 percent.

Desktop virtualization was marginally better, with a disappointment gap of 26 percent. Storage as a service projects were the biggest disappointment of all: Companies were hoping to achieve improved scalability, reduced complexity and increased efficiency in the data center. What they got was a massive 37 percent less than they expected.

None of this is exactly inspiring. If I were a Gartner analyst, I'd say that when it comes to virtualization and cloud computing technologies, most companies have got their snouts stuck firmly in the trough of disillusionment. Reality, for the moment, sucks.

But the news is not all bad: These technologies may not be delivering all that had been hoped for, but organizations are not completely losing enthusiasm. Especially in the field of server virtualization, where the survey found that one in three companies are now making plans to go beyond the virtualization of relatively unimportant applications, hoping to virtualize mission-critical applications, such as HR, accounting and enterprise resource planning within the next year.

Although when it comes to moving these mission-critical applications to private/hybrid cloud environments, these organizations are a little less enthusiastic. Why? Worries center on issues related to disaster recovery, security and the perennial favorite, maintaining control over data. Performance and compliance issues are also causing some fretting.

Symantec's Magee said the fact that a small yet significant number of companies are now looking at running mission-critical applications in virtual machines shows that virtualization has reached an inflection point, with the implication that the technology is about to really take off. But, as the survey illustrates, server virtualization is far more mature than the other technologies needed for implementing private/hybrid cloud environments -- technologies like storage virtualization, storage as a service and cloud technology itself.

And that means that if you're looking forward to a highly scalable, highly automated and highly secure data center running your company's applications in a private or hybrid cloud, don't hold your breath. You'll have to wait several years before you can hope to get one that ultimately doesn't disappoint.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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