Virtualization: 2008 trends and 2009 predictions

Virtualization has had a big year—from Microsoft Corp.’s entry into the game to the growing desktop virtualization market, more IT managers are seeing virtual machines as a real-live option. We look back at some of the biggest happenings in 2008, and ahead to what IT managers should keep an eye on in 2009, including desktop virtualization, management challenges, and mobile virtualization.

2008 In Review

It’s “gone mainstream”

“Carving up a server has gone mainstream,” said senior research analyst John Sloan of the Info-Tech Research Group. “The cost benefits of virtualization are becoming well-known, especially among smaller companies who want to save on hardware acquisitions. You can consolidate servers with virtualization—people get that now.”

Bogomil Balkansky, senior director of product marketing with VMWare Inc., said that IT managers have become a lot bolder. He said, “Customers are deploying virtualization for more use-cases, including increased overall availability, and disaster recovery.”

Microsoft is singing the same tune, citing Gartner research that found that 10 per cent of servers will be virtual by the end of this year, and 60 per cent will be virtual machines by 2013, said David McJannet, group product manager for server and tools with Microsoft Canada Corp.

In addition to Microsoft’s big play, Citrix Systems continues to swing for the fences, leading the way into desktop virtualization with the new XenDesktop, and touting the “openness, availability, and ease of use” of its newly released XenServer 5.0.

But where there’s innovation, there should be management.

Management muck-up

Now IT managers have to deal not only virtual machines, but with virtual machine management—what Sloan calls “the internal cloud.”

“How do you manage enterprise applications in this cloud? How do you host applications in a multi-tiered environment?” asked Sloan. Virtual machine sprawl is getting more serious by the day, and companies are only beginning to catch up.

This year, VMWare concentrated more on the data centre and management modules via VMWare View 3, and Citrix as well, said Sloan, while Microsoft ventured into the internal and external cloud, via its HyperV and Azure.

VMWare took aim at making IT managers’ lives easier with the suite of products that include Site Recovery Manager, Lifecycle Manager, and Stage Manager.

All of this could mean a lot more work for IT managers. Andrew Hillier, co-founder and CTO of virtualization management software company Cirba Inc., said virtualization initiatives will face increased scrutiny and higher expectations in the new year.

With more viable solutions to choose from and a looming economic downturn, there will be more pressure on decision-makers to get virtualization into production more quickly. His analogy: you’ve done a nice job painting the room; now paint the whole house.

“Management is our customers’ primary concern,” Microsoft’s McJannet said.

David Roussain, vice-president of product marketing for Citrix’s application virtualization group, has been hearing from customers a lot lately. He said, “We’re at the point where IT managers say, ‘Yeah, we get virtualization, but how do we manage it?’ Now it’s about figuring out the management, control, scaling, testing, and patching. Before IT managers go up in the big cloud, they have to get their internal cloud under control.”

In a way, he said, it’s almost like going backward in IT history. While IT splintered off into many PCs for a while, now the trend is going back to a similar structure to the olden days, with a lot of centralization.

“It’s no longer a simple decision,” Hillier said. The early adopters of virtualization are a passionate bunch, but now their art is about to turn into work, he said.

The workload management regimen will become more formal and involve more departments of the business, Hillier predicted. The flexibility of virtualization can make for a very volatile, reactive environment if not managed properly. Right now, at the corporate level, capacity management groups aren’t being involved early enough in the virtualization process.

Capacity management works at line-of-business and infrastructure levels for future planning. A virtualized environment can respond, but what if IT doesn’t know there’s an acquisition coming down the pike? “There are reasons you have those traditional capacity management groups,” Hillier said.


Desktop virtualization

“This year, we saw virtual desktop infrastructure and managing virtual PCs really gain traction,” Sloan said. “It comes out of support issues: IT managers want to get out of the desk-side support business, and work on administering to applications and PCs centrally.

He said that within three to five years, the more traditional set-ups will taper off dramatically, especially in the application and desktop virtualization space.

“The proof-of-concept for desktop virtualization is strong for 2009,” said Roussain.

The rest of the year ahead: Microsoft, mobile, and more

Microsoft will likely continue to increase its market share, according to McJannet, who said that it had captured 23 per cent of all 2008 hypervisor licenses.

Citrix, for its part, has over 7,000 Canadian customers so far, with over two million users.

Sloan also suggests to keep an eye out for more hypervisors running on bare metal, and more virtual machines on mobile devices like smartphones.

Citrix has entries in the latter two: the company continues to push its products as the ideal solution for IT managers running mixed environments who need a bare metal basis for their virtualization, as well as IT managers who run projects in the cloud, where Linux is often used, said Roussain.

It also has announced the ability to push applications out to the iPhone virtually via its XenApp AppReceiver; this feature is set to debut in 2009. VMWare, too, is pushing its upcoming Mobile Virtualization Platform, which will be pushed out to certain smartphone models in late 2009 or 2010.

–With files from Dave Webb.

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