Face-off: Virtualization Takes Center Stage

Our columnists agree that virtual machines could make your life easier this year. But sparks fly when they talk about how.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Virtual Sprawl

By Mark Hall

Those readers who, like the two of us, are a bit long in the tooth undoubtedly recall the annual breathless announcements in the 1980s that local-area networks were about to become ubiquitous. The years came and went -- 1982, 1983, 1984 ... -- with no discernible triumph of the LAN over, say, point-to-point networks. Then, one day, without any commotion, LANs were everywhere. They had conquered networking, but no one could say exactly when. History shifted, but no one knows exactly when.

That, too, will be the fate of virtualization.

I can't argue with you, Frank, that virtualization solves many a problem today. And you cogently describe its value for companies using it now. But before our readers take your words of wisdom and join the march to virtualize their data centers, they need to take a moment to reflect on exactly where their IT pain hurts the most.

If, as you rightly point out, a CIO's biggest issue is responding fast to business users' needs, virtualization can be an excellent tool to quickly provision and deploy server or storage systems. However, if data center managers are under different pressures, virtual machines (VM) might just make things worse.

I'm thinking about a story we published late last year about a Web hosting service that attempted to consolidate servers into a virtual environment. It turned out to be a pretty complex process that took 165,000 Web sites offline for nearly a week.

That news underscored a survey commissioned by Symantec last September about problems faced by data center managers. Two of the top four issues revealed in that study are interrelated -- data center complexity and staff skills. Two-thirds of the respondents said that IT operations were becoming too complex and that there were too many applications (a trend VMs will fuel), making data center management increasingly difficult. In fact, 68% said their current staffs don't have the skills to manage the complexity of their data centers today.

And make no mistake about it, virtualization adds another layer of complexity in a data center. It may be seen as a solution to server sprawl, but VM sprawl can happen just as fast -- even faster -- because IT doesn't need to get a separate purchase order for hardware when adding VMs.

You'll be interested to hear that about half of the respondents to the Symantec poll said that they're trying server and storage virtualization technology. Wisely, though, precious few are using VMs on mission-critical applications. In part, that's because virtualization requires data center workers with new skills -- workers who are hard to find and expensive to keep when you do find them.

Still, those who are moving down the VM road will definitely need people who understand the nuances of virtualization tools. For example, while it's simple to create a VM guest on a server to run a business application, mixing and matching VMs on a single hardware server can create a service-level agreement mess when they all start contending for I/O, sending server performance into a tailspin. Therefore, hands-on VM experience is crucial.

Virtualization is great, but each CIO needs to assess his own pain. If more of it comes from, say, managing complexity and finding good staff as opposed to dealing with server sprawl or quickly provisioning storage for an application -- the Year of Virtualization may need to be pushed out for another year or two.

Ultimately, though, you're right, Frank. Just as with LANs a quarter-century ago, virtual machines will creep into our lives at a steady pace until one day we look up and see VMs everywhere, doing everything for everybody.

Forecast 2008: IT Trends & Predictions for the New Year

How'd we do in '07?  See last year's Forecast 2007.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon