Sharpening your virtualization vision Part 2

Though the adoption of virtualization increases with the size and complexity of enterprises, virtualization is a more important development for small to midsize enterprises than for large ones, according to research from Info-Tech Research Group of London, Ontario. This is because x86/x64 virtualization stands to have a larger impact on SME infrastructures than on large enterprise infrastructures.

Enterprises of all sizes can benefit from using virtual machine technology to counter the problem of server sprawl, which has resulted from a proliferation of “one app, one server” x86 servers in distributed processing environments. Large enterprises have more x86 servers and are therefore more likely to be adopting x86 server virtualization.

However, large enterprises with complex infrastructures are also more likely to have additional layers of processing capability such as mainframes and high-performance Unix-based systems. The x86 portion is only a part of a larger whole. Although adoption penetration of virtualization is greater in larger companies, the proportion of their environment that is virtualized with x86 virtual machines is much less significant. Thus, the greatest benefit of x86 virtualization can be seen in SMEs.


Virtualization is not the best solution for every server application instance. For example, high I/O applications which utilize large databases have often encountered performance bottlenecks in a virtualized environment. Recently, market leader VMware, a subsidiary of EMC Corp., has greatly increased the amount of memory that virtual machines can access in order to alleviate these database I/O problems.

Production-level performance is not as much of a consideration when testing and developing software. Some enterprises are therefore using virtualization in their test/development environments for the time being and holding back on moving virtual machines to a production environment pending improvements in both the software and server horsepower. The test/development environment is a natural place to start with virtualization implementation.

Traditionally, test bed physical machines were needed for software testing and development. Application developers might typically spend up to 25% of their total project time acquiring and configuring hardware. With a virtual server infrastructure, a new server instance can be created from a standardized template. Weeks of development time can be collapsed into minutes.


In Info-Tech’s IT decision-maker survey, respondents were asked to identify whether they are more focused on cost control or innovation for competitive advantage. Innovators are far more likely to adopt virtualization than those that are focused on cost control. This is somewhat surprising as a major short-term benefit is hardware cost reduction. So why is virtualization not more popular with cost-cutters?

Though virtualization by itself is not a strategic differentiator, Info-Tech believes that using virtualization to move to a utility-style infrastructure is an effective way for IT departments to improve their capacity to be innovative. Utility infrastructure is more cost-efficient and can rapidly provision new or changing applications that the business needs.

Info-Tech predicts that processor virtualization will continue to spread in SME infrastructures, mainly in servers but also on desktops. With increased use, the focus of virtualization will be on the management layer rather than on the simple creation of virtual machines. Finally, there will be increased vendor competition as Microsoft virtualization and open-source Xen rise to challenge the domination of VMware.

In enterprises of 250 to 5,000 employees, 13% are planning to move virtualization to a production environment within a year and a further 22% are testing the technology, according to Info-Tech’s research. It is expected that nearly all of those testing the technology will use it either in a production environment or as a means to streamline application development/testing by virtualization of the development infrastructure.

Even without new midsized enterprises choosing to test virtualization, this would mean fully two thirds of enterprises of midrange size will be using virtualized infrastructure for either production servers or for a test/development environment next year.

Info-Tech expects that additional SME decision makers will investigate virtualization as part of a planned server refresh. Vendors will be taking advantage of both virtualization software and better support for virtualization in x86/x64 architectures. “If you are looking to buy a server anyway,” the question will go, “why not buy one that can support multiple Windows or Linux OS instances?”

Virtualization will be an out-of-box feature of most new servers and even some PCs. PCs are benefiting from the same advanced architectures as servers. Powerful dual-core processors and chipsets that support processor partitioning with virtual machine “hypervisors” will become standard on many PCs. Forward looking IT departments will begin to explore the potential of virtual machines for desktop management, disaster recovery planning, and out-of-band security management.

Management Will Be the Differentiator VM creation is rapidly becoming commoditized and will soon be an out-of-box feature of vendor offerings. The challenge going forward will be to manage a virtualized utility infrastructure in order to deliver appropriate service levels and achieve maximum utilization of physical resources. With virtual machines becoming more ubiquitous in the data centre, IT departments will also need to be able to ensure that the potential problem of server sprawl in a traditional distributed processing environment does not get replaced with the problem of virtual server sprawl in a consolidated and centralized processing environment.

VMware has combined its virtual server hypervisor product (ESX Server) and its management suite (VirtualCenter) into a combined offering called Virtual Infrastructure 3. This is implicit recognition of the fact that the company sees its future competitiveness in the management of the “virtual infrastructure”, not in the creation of virtual machines.

The undisputed lead vendor in virtual machine creation and management on x86/x64 hardware continues to be VMWare. It holds a commanding market share with more than 20,000 enterprise customers for its products. But as virtual machines become more of a commodity, the company will see more competition from Microsoft and open source Xen-based products.

VMWare has been the leader in offering a bare metal hypervisor (a virtual machine monitor which does not need a host operating system) in its ESX Server product. However this technical advantages will be challenged by Microsoft, with the debut of its bare metal hypervisor, as well as licensing for unlimited virtual machines per physical host, with Longhorn.


1. Processor virtualization on x86/x64 hardware is no longer an emerging or experimental technology. It is being used increasingly in mid-sized enterprises in consolidation and management of server infrastructures. For mid-sized enterprises, which are more dependant on x86/x64 Windows servers, virtualization is having a significant impact.

2. Adoption of virtual machines will continue to grow among SMEs. As virtual machines become a standardized commodity, and innovative IT departments seek to use virtualization as a component of agile utility infrastructures, the focus will shift strongly from virtual machine creation to virtual infrastructure management.

3. All enterprises which depend on x86/x64 infrastructure should explore processor virtualization. In particular, enterprises with more than 250 employees and 15 servers should look at virtual machines. Enterprises already using virtualization for server management should also explore the possibilities of managing virtual machine instances on the desktop.

Processor virtualization has rapidly gained a foothold among SMEs as these enterprises seek to cost-effectively manage server infrastructure consolidation and growth. Innovative IT decision-makers will be using this technology to create more agile data-centre infrastructures.

Note: This report comes courtesy of Info-Tech Research Group, a London, Ontario-based provider of IT research and advice to a wide range of businesses, organizations and vendors.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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