Virtually Speaking: Gartner Outlines 'Real-Time Infrastructure'

Amy Newman
At its IT Infrastructure, Operations & Management Summit, the research firm details how virtualization will enable the agility needed for the data center of the future.

Kissimmee, FLA. -- It's been said that when E.F. Hutton talked, people listened. The same holds true for Gartner. When analysts from the research firm talk, end-user enterprises and vendors alike, listen.

With the gap between well-managed infrastructure and the badly managed ones growing, there is much to be heard (and learned) at the IT Infrastructure, Operations & Management Summit 2007 being held this week in Kissimmee, Fla.

Thomas Bittman, vice president distinguished analyst, laid the groundwork for the conference in the first keynote Monday morning. Bittman stated that infrastructure and operations will change dramatically during the next five years. Trends such as virtualization, process improvement and automation, alternate delivery models, and power and cooling demands will drive this shift.

Virtualization is critical to this change, particularly in the area of automation. It's so critical, in fact, that there are more sessions dedicated to virtualization at this show than at any Gartner event, Research Vice President Mike Chuba said in his opening comments.

If Gartner clients are an indicator, virtualization is top of mind with enterprises. Bittman said that he has received more than 900 inquiries related to virtualization, and that the total number of virtualization inquiries for the research firm numbers in the thousands.

In addition, "virtualization" is the No. 1 search term in gartner.com's infrastructure area.

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Why all the interest?

Aside from the obvious synergy with consolidation, virtualization is well-suited for the real-time infrastructures (RTIs), around which Gartner believes the data centers of the future will be built and where today's data centers are headed.

Gartner defines RTI as "an IT infrastructure shared across customers, business units or applications, where business policies and service-level agreements drive its dynamic and automatic optimization to reduce costs, while increasing agility and quality of service."

In a presentation yesterday, Bittman described virtualization as, "a way-station on the way to a real-time infrastructure."

Virtualization, he argued, is more than a technology. It represents a cultural change as well as a shift in how an enterprise deals with its architecture.

For one thing, virtualization enables alternative delivery models, depending on whether you virtualize at the application, OS or hardware level. As a result, Bittman said he believes virtualization is an "enabler for agility." This enablement has led to multicore's success, because "multicore wouldn't sell if not for virtualization," he said. Currently, few applications on the market are written to take advantage of multicore's strong strengths. Virtual machines, however, can by virtue of their separateness.

The Times Are A'Changing

A byproduct of creating agility is the need to keep pace, and the flux in the virtualization space has set a pace that shows no sign of abating.

Virtual machine hypervisors, for example, are at their peak and moving from an expensive to an inexpensive paradigm, Bittman said. By year-end 2008, Bittman anticipates a free, mature hypervisor for x86 servers. He also anticipates that by 2009, Microsoft will bundle a hypervisor and virtual machine monitor into Windows.

Virtual machine relocation products are gaining in popularity, Bittman said. VMotion, for example, currently less than 1 percent of its potential market share, and it continues to pick up new customers.

In contrast, Bittman noted the OS-based virtual machine (i.e., virtual machines that sit below above the OS level) space is more mature, but nearing its sunset. It's grabbed as much market share as it is going to.

The Future

The virtual footprint continues to grow. Bittman said that by year-end 2007, more than 90 percent of Fortune 1000 companies will be using virtual machine technologies in their x86 server deployments.

By 2009, more than 4 million virtual machines may be installed on x86 servers. This will represent about 20 percent of the total potential market.

Although the hypervisor's potential market is so big that it stands to eventually replace the operating system, it is rapidly becoming a commodity conduit to the true value of virtualization. The hypervisor vendors are no doubt aware of this, as they have already begun expanding their offerings.

Bittman cited automation and virtual appliances (aka bubbles) as two areas that will be driven by virtualization. Virtualization, he noted, is a major enabler for infrastructure automation, and it will help accelerate the trend toward IT operations process automation.

He said he believes that by the end of next year, automation will likely be one of the primary selection criteria for x86 server virtual machines, as will distributed manageability.

Meanwhile, as employee-owned laptops become more commonplace — by 2008, as many as 10 percent of companies will require employee-purchased notebooks — the need for keeping corporate data secure will intensify. With virtual appliances, enterprises own and control the bubble that pertains to them, while the employee or contractor owns the hardware.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has covered virtualization since 2001.

This article was originally published on Jun 12, 2007
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