ServersVirtually Speaking: Breakout Year and Beyond

Virtually Speaking: Breakout Year and Beyond

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Amy Newman

Virtualization technology came a long way in 2006. What will be the encore to this breakout season?

Hard to believe it’s already that time of year when references to bubbles are about something to drink. Yet, here we are, wrapping up 2006 and looking ahead to 2007, and the chorus of year-end wraps is coming through loud and clear.

Bubbly is one way to describe the virtualization landscape in 2006. If ever the term “breakthrough year” is appropriate, it’s virtualization technology in 2006. The year will likely go down as the year server virtualization reached critical mass in the IT industry’s collective conscience.

Virtualization technology for the x86 space came a long way in 2006. The landscape could arguably be described as a straight trajectory; 2007 may well have more peaks and valleys. No doubt the growth will continue, as more enterprises begin to view the technology as ready for prime time, as opposed to the beta state it occupied in 2007.

So what will 2007 bring? More of the same, most likely. Energy costs continue to rise; real-estate remains a premium; and high availability for mission-critical apps is still paramount. Vendors appear to be in it for the long haul: ISVs are increasing their arsenals of easy-to-use offerings to virtualize and even starting to develop versions that are well-suited for virtual environments, and hardware and processors are being designed with virtualization in mind.

If the virtualization market was nascent in 2006, it may well be pubescent in 2007.

Like the open source market (which is mature or close to it), the virtualization space is becoming less about getting to a virtual state than about what can be done when you get there.

VMware, the reigning x86 virtualization king, is no doubt aware of this. It has expanded its footprint well beyond the hypervisor, offering products that range from VMware Lab Manager, which begins shipping today (what a nifty holiday gift that would make for the admin looking to get his virtual feet wet), to a host of management offerings. Virtual Iron has partnered with data center automation PlateSpin to streamline the migration process to its virtual environment.

Now that virtual servers are moving beyond their traditional test and dev strongholds, uptime and manageability are as critical for them as they are for dedicated single-app boxes — perhaps even more so, since one box can be home to multiple workloads. Hence, the entrance of the traditional management vendors. CA, Opsware and others began exploring virtual territory in 2006 and released product to stake a claim for a share of the market. Last week, BEA unveiled WebLogic Server Virtual Edition (WLS-VE), which will enable Java applications to run on virtualized hardware.

Such offerings will compete directly with those from the virtual environment vendors whose first-to-market advantage may not hold up for long.

Falling loosely under management is security. As virtualized environments proliferate, security concerns specific to virtualization will likely surface, and perhaps bring the security vendors more to the fore. Up until now, they’ve had little to say. It’s unlikely that will remain the case for long.

Microsoft seemed omnipresent in the virtualization market this year, yet its actual coordinates were difficult to discern. With Longhorn nearer to shipping, 2007 may be the year Microsoft becomes a formidable force as well as the year that everyone gets a clearer sense of Microsoft’s strategy for the virtualization space.

One big unknown, particularly in relation to Microsoft, is the licensing issue. Thus far, ISVs have not strayed far from their traditional pricing based on CPUs. Now that the box itself is beginning to matter less and enterprises have the capability to dynamically create servers on the fly or use more or less of an app, will pricing models change?

Although the x86 architecture has hogged the virtualization spotlight, it’s hardly the only virtualization option out there. Mainframes have been virtualizing without fanfare for decades, and presumably vendors in that space are looking to capitalize on this growing trend. With HP’s commitment to its Integrity line and IBM’s mainframes alive and well, expect to see Big Iron riding the wave, with logical partitioning for RISC-based systems marketed even more heavily as an option for high-end mission-critical computing needs.

It’s been less than a decade since virtualization came to the x86 space. Although some analysts argue that the technology’s actual penetration is as low as 5 percent, awareness certainly isn’t, and vendors are savvy to the zeitgeist.

As recently as three years ago, vendors that sold clustering tools bristled when the “V” word was mentioned in reference to their products. In the past few months, the term “reverse virtualization” has begun to surface even though the products’ function and design have not changed.

Although increased awareness is generally a good thing, one downside to such a “no publicity is bad publicity” philosophy is it becomes easy to dilute meaning. As traditional ISVs deliver products that “optimize” for virtualization or release “virtual offerings” it will be more critical than ever to look beyond buzzwords and be sure that what the product does is indeed fine-tuned for the virtualized infrastructure in your organization.

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

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