Virtually Speaking: Riding the Virtualization Wave

Amy Newman
Virtualization has crept into the marketing lexicon of IT vendors of all stripes. Are enterprises buying it?

Launching a news-based column the Friday before a long weekend is always a risky move. The past four days have made for a fairly quiet week on the virtualization front, but with the major OEMs converging on New York City next week and a succession of trade shows starting the subsequent week, it promises to be a busy autumn, and, no doubt, a busy time in the virtualization space.

Read recent press releases from any OEM or ISV and it feels as if "virtualization" capabilities are a required feature, even if they are merely being promised for next version or are months down the road.

The capability to virtualize now seems pervasive, and nowhere is this more evident than in hardware announcements. For example, HP this week refreshed its Itanium line. Not only can the new chips be virtualized, they are also intended to power a virtualized environment.

What is even more interesting is the acknowledgement that enterprises expect virtualization capabilities. Even if they don't understand them or anticipate using them in the near future, they want the option of having them.

Business need or savvy marketing?

Actual, unbiased virtualization penetration statistics are hard to come by. No doubt because there is no fixed criteria for what is considered virtualized and how much of the infrastructure must be that way to count it.

The numbers that are out there are predominantly in the single digits. Surprisingly low given the amount of free products found in both the open source and commercial spaces. Xen is a prominent open source offering, and VMware Server, the virtualization vendor's entry-level offering and successor to GSX server, was released free of charge back in February.

VMware's strategy isn't so unusual. Hook 'em in with the free, upgrade them to the pay, and sell services to keep it as simple as possible.

Is discussion of such capabilities selling servers? Perhaps. The ills that virtualization technology is designed to salve are certainly real. The first week alone, VMware Server had 100,000 downloads.

Power and cooling and server sprawl are some of the reasons why the virtualization market has cropped up. The OEMs that can solve these issues stand to benefit, even if virtualization turns out not to be the panacea.

Also important to bear in mind is that although vendor response has been rapid, enterprises are still getting their feet wet and in few instances have to bet their mission-critical apps on virtualized servers.

That day will likely come, but the journey there, like journeys everywhere, will have its share of bumps.

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

This article was originally published on Sep 8, 2006
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