The Next Hurdle for Virtualization Technology

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Mar 10, 2010

As the VMware Express begins its journey across North America -- perhaps, rolling into a city near you, there are many out there who don't need to be sold on the benefits of virtualization technology.

Virtually Speaking: As more enterprises buy into virtualization technology, the biggest performance hit may be coming from the applications themselves.

With virtualization rates now well into the double-digits, many enterprises are looking not so much to be sold on virtualization as they are to figure out a way to improve processes using what they have.

This is not always the wisest course.

Gartner Analyst Cameron Haight meets monthly with a group of clients to discuss perks and pitfalls they've encountered in their server virtualization endeavors. In a recent blog post, he discussed answers to a question raised at February's meeting: "From what part of the virtual server infrastructure have most of your performance problems originated ...?"

The results, which surprised Haight, found that it is the individual virtual machines that cause the biggest headache, with 42 percent of them exhibiting performance problems. SAN/storage and the host server (e.g., ESX) were the culprit in 26 percent and 21 percent of enterprises, respectively. Surprisingly, 10 percent of companies claimed to have no performance problems, and none blamed the cluster or network.

Interesting, but important to bear in mind, is that this is a very limited response set -- 19 companies to be exact. Presumably, they are also technology-savvy enterprises and therefore more advanced in their virtual infrastructure than your typical mom-and-pop shop. In other words, they are not waving at VMware's 18-wheeler from the roadside.

Haight noted his awareness of the limitations in the small sample set. Raw numbers aside, the fact that nearly half of the companies surveyed had issues with the individual virtual machines is important and bears examination from a wider perspective.

Haight, interestingly enough, said he suspects the problem is not so much related to virtualization as it is to the code in the application itself. It is, he said, "harder to fix code than to change a configuration parameter, so the onus was usually always first on the virtualization administrator."

This may be the next major hurdle for virtualization. The majority of apps currently running in enterprises were not designed with virtualization in mind. Much emphasis has been placed on the hardware aspect of a virtualization endeavor, but little attention has been paid to the software side.

Obviously, enterprises that don't refresh software frequently are far more likely to be affected by this than those that buy every version of a given app, as ISVs are increasingly developing software with virtualization in mind.

Given the small numbers, Haight's findings should not result in what he described as, "any hasty strategy changes," but it is certainly a cautionary tale of what might lie ahead, particularly for those thinking of hopping aboard the VMware Express.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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