Everyone’s Virtualizing ? Aren’t They?

On the face of it, it seems every company in the world is rushing headlong into the world of virtualization. They are virtualizing every server and every blade, using this technology to consolidate all their servers, and running dozens of virtual machines (VMs) on each box in their data center. Or are they?

“Over fifty percent of enterprises use virtualization today,” said Bob Gill, chief research officer for TheInfoPro (TIP). “It has been embraced so quickly compared to other technologies we have been tracking over many years.”

With the other breath, however, he exposes the fact that few of these companies have rolled virtualization out widely. According to TIP figures, 80% of organizations using virtualization have deployed it on from one-to-50 servers. He tempers this by noting that 60% of those using it intend to invest more dollars in it next year.

These findings are consistent with those of Metrics Based Assessments (MBA) LLC, a data center benchmarking, consolidation and relocations consultancy based in Milford, CT. In the past two years, 95% of the data centers MBA has benchmarked have a server virtualization program. While some have as many as 20 instances of the operating system (or images) running on Windows servers, most have considerably less.

When you divide the number of images by the number of servers, the results are far from emphatic about the adoption rates for virtualization. They seem to indicate that enterprises are only virtualizing a few machines, about 1.1-to-1.2 images per server with little difference between UNIX, Linux and Windows.

“I don’t think people can virtualize fast enough when it is a priority,” said Mark Levin, senior partner at MBA. “But it just isn’t as big a priority as it seems.”

TIP Study

TIP has been conducting virtualization surveys for several years. Most respondents insist virtualization is critical to achieving business objectives and cite server sprawl and application growth as big drivers. Not surprisingly, the primary reason behind adoption is consolidation.

Gill reports that virtualization is also gradually making its way up the server food chain. Whereas early deployments were on small, low-powered servers, it is appearing on more and more on the radar screen for 4-way and 8-way models. Particularly in 2008, he expects an explosion in the adoption of virtualization in these larger x86 server configurations.

Further, companies are tending towards virtualization on a multi-core rather than a single-core platform. “The sweet spot for virtualization is probably in the two-way and four-way multi-core server market,” said Gill.

IT managers, it appears, are utilizing these machines primarily to support new applications rather than existing apps or databases. And perhaps surprisingly, they are relatively slow to roll out virtualization to blades. TIP figures reveal blades won’t become predominantly virtualized until 2009. This reticence could be due to unresolved issues over software licensing, support, performance under load and other issues with virtualization which have yet to be ironed out.

“Server virtualization is still the Wild West,” concludes Gill.