Preparing for a virtual future

From its origins in testing and development environments, x86 server virtualisation is today commonly applied in all quarters of the IT infrastructure including, in some cases, mission critical systems.

Certainly for VMware, the company whose software has more than any other supported this progression and which has benefited the most financially from it, there are no limits on how much virtualisation businesses can deploy in the data centre.

Speaking at the company’s European expo in February 2009, CEO Paul Maritz said that once its forthcoming vSphere range of virtualisation tools is available, “there will be no reason why you can’t virtualise 100% of your workloads in the data centre”.

Of course, it suits VMware to present virtualisation as a ubiquitous and inescapable component of the computing infrastructure of the future. But the argument is not just wishful thinking on its part.

Improving efficiency and cutting costs, as this month’s research report on IT spending strategy reveals, are the top priorities for IT directors in 2009.

That is only going to intensify an already healthy appetite for virtualisation – a technology
where, for once, there is an indisputable cost-reduction business case.

The ascent of cloud computing will also drive the proliferation of
virtualisation, as businesses seek to create a fluid, contiguous computing fabric that conceals the underlying complexity of the hardware supporting it.

But as this month’s cover feature outlines, the expanding use of virtualisation is testing existing IT management tools and processes to the very limit.

To paraphrase one executive: ‘virtualisation changes the laws of physics in the data centre’. The ease with which server images can be created invariably leads to excess, which not only threatens the efficiencies that virtualisation is meant to deliver but also makes the server infrastructure much harder to scrutinise and maintain.

Those businesses with the most mature virtualisation deployments are finding that they need to intensify their adherence to best practice frameworks such as ITIL to counterbalance the exponential rise in complexity that the technology ignites.

Meanwhile, systems management toolsets are still catching up with the real-time requirements of virtual environments.

No one is suggesting that the ‘virtual sprawl’ should induce panic. Management
challenges have not dampened the IT sector’s enthusiasm for virtualisation, and
the cost equation still makes virtualisation a net benefit. However, addressing
potential issues now will prevent that equation shifting the wrong way in future.

David Cliff

David Cliff is managing director of Houghton le Spring-based Gedanken, a company specialising in coaching-based support and personal development. Cliff is an experienced trainer, manager and therapist,...

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