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Gartner: Everything's Coming Up Virtual

When the economy gets tough, the tough get going -- virtually, in this case. New research from market watcher Gartner Inc. predicts that sales of virtualization software could jump by nearly 50 percent this year, spurred by the efforts of IT organizations to reduce their TCO exposures, lower their carbon footprints and, of course, keep up with their competitors.

There's a lot to recommend virtualization as a multi-purpose fix, if not a panacea, for what ails many IT practices, Gartner analysts asserted. "Virtualization helps organizations to cut costs, better utilize assets, and reduce implementation and management time and complexity, all of which are crucial in this economic environment," said Alan Dayley, research director at Gartner, in a statement.

Server-side virtualization, not surprisingly, is still the chief inflection point. A recent study published by SHARE, for example, found that most shops are already using some form of server virtualization. This year, however, IT organizations will focus on boosting the manageability of their already significant server virtualization investments.

"Server virtualization management will be the primary source of growth in the virtualization market as hypervisor software functionality -- key to virtualizing a server -- rapidly moves to hardware," Dayley said. "Server virtualization management technology in particular is designed to reduce TCO, reduce associated availability risk and improve quality of service."

Look for changes in the hosted virtual desktop (HVD) segment, too. Today, HVD deployments account for just over 10 percent of all virtualization activity, but that will change over the next five years, Gartner predicted. HVD is a TCO champ in several respects, starting with manageability. Instead of being scattered across tens, hundreds, thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of desktops, HVD condenses the end user experience into a single virtual server farm. In place of discrete desktop systems, each of which can consume 300 watts or more of power, HVD condenses power consumption into one (admittedly massive) footprint.

Industry offerings from Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and a host of other players are maturing, too. "Maturity and acceptance will result in a significant broadening of the addressable user population by 2010 and an acceleration in deployments," the Gartner survey observed. This won't make for a turn-key desktop management experience, however. "[E]nd user organizations [should] define and optimize management processes for HVDs as they did for traditional PCs. Although HVD images are centralized and more standardized, the capabilities for managing them across their full deployment life cycles remain incomplete."

In spite of its notional advantages, the HVD model at present is far from a panacea. In fact, ill-considered HVD deployments could end up costing cash-strapped IT organizations, Gartner said.

"End user organizations must build cost and benefit financial models to fully understand the financial impact of implementing HVDs, and make certain that cost and benefit exist as compared with those for traditional PCs," said Phil Dawson, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. "There is a growing number of management providers, which represents an opportunity for end user pricing leverage, but no vendor offers a complete set of server virtualization management functionality. IT organizations will have to undertake -- or outsource -- their own virtualization management system integration efforts or wait for better integrated and robust toolsets."

Microsoft was a relative late-comer to the virtualization game. Thanks to the ubiquity of its Windows brand and the staying power of its Win32/Win64 stack -- to say nothing of an HVD which plays to all of these strengths -- Gartner sees the company emerging as a legitimate competitor to VMware. Five years from now, Gartner predicted, Microsoft and VMware will vie for bragging rights in the server virtualization infrastructure segment.

"The server virtualization management market is currently wide open, with more than 100 vendors supplying products that meet some of the requirements in the management stack," Gartner concluded. "As the management market matures, virtualization infrastructure vendors, the 'Big Four' [i.e., BMC Software Inc., CA Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp.] and other management vendors will build and acquire more virtualization management capabilities, thus consolidating the market."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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