Breaking out of the virtualisation pilot

The IT industry is full of bad habits, none greater than treating new technology as a fait accomplis

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The IT industry is full of bad habits, none greater than treating new technology areas as faits accomplis - which of course makes things a tad complicated eighteen months down the line, when organisations are just about deciding to adopt, but marketeers have already moved onto the next ‘big thing'.

I remember overhearing a PR executive, a good few years ago now, saying how SOA needed a new name largely to overcome this issue of allowing people to actually do something with it without making vendors appear in some way backward. It was ever, and no doubt it always will be, thus.

Case in point: virtualisation. If the hype were to be believed, most organisations would be done by now - servers would be consolidated into neat arrays of racks and blades, drawing on a similarly neat configuration of fit-for-purpose storage operating as a single, flexible pool. What's not to like? Nothing in principle, but the practice might take a little longer (probably a good thing for VMware, to be fair - if we were all finished, they'd have nothing left to sell).

In reality, most organisations are still to leave the starting blocks when it comes to virtualisation. Thinking specifically about server virtualisation, for example, while over 50 per cent of larger (250-employee-plus employee) organisations may have adopted it in some shape or form, the majority of deployments are non-critical workloads or pilots.

So, we need to be careful. Virtualisation in general, and server virtualisation in particular, is not a done deal. We think we can speak with confidence when we say that it will be accepted as a mainstream technology, as (for a change) adoption is being driven as much by organisational ‘pull' as by industry ‘push' - not only because of the relatively immediate cash savings in terms of hardware, power and licensing that virtualisation can bring, but also for the operational flexibility and provisioning benefits ("Want a new physical server? No. Want a virtual server? Yes.").

But let's not run away with ourselves. Just because over half of the world's organisations have some form of virtualisation in place, doesn't mean it is already a mainstream technology. A number of hurdles still need to be overcome, some of which will be down to what happens when organisations do start to do more with it, and some to do with what vendors then provide as a response.

In a nutshell, much of this comes down to good, old fashioned configuration management. For example, lessons from early adopters suggest that the problems of physical server sprawl (which server virtualisation is reputed to resolve) can very quickly be superseded by virtual server sprawl - we can imagine similar scenarios for virtual storage, thin provisioning or no thin provisioning.

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