SHARE Survey Sheds Light on Virtual Trends

IT is moving toward total enterprise virtualization, a strategy that proposes to transform both the practice and the purpose of virtualization.

Forget everything -- or almost everything -- you know about virtualization.

That's one suggestion in a new survey from SHARE, the prominent mainframe user group. It's not that virtualization as a technology will drastically change, SHARE officials stress; it's more about how virtualization is practiced -- how and why it's used, inside the enterprise and out. Total enterprise virtualization (TEV) may transform both the practice and the purpose of virtualization.

SHARE's new survey, which solicited responses from approximately 400 IT professionals, flags TEV as an important trend. In contrast to traditional virtualization efforts -- which typically focus on consolidating operating systems or application environments, chiefly as a means to boost utilization and manageability -- TEV emphasizes abstraction and flexibility. It aims to uncouple services or resources from discrete applications or hardware systems. It mixes both familiar (such as server and storage virtualization) with not-so-familiar strategies (such as cloud computing), in both its external and internal incarnations.

More to the point, argues Joe McKendrick, a principal analyst with UnisSphere Research, and author of the SHARE survey, TEV is a multiphase effort.

"TEV is an incremental process that will evolve over an extended period oftime, not through single solutions or overnight implementations," writes McKendrick, an industry veteran who has covered the mainframe, midrange, and client/server segments for decades, and the author of Enterprise System’s yearly IT salary survey.

"Technology managers and professionals recognize the strategic advantages of TEV but need to instill awareness, as well as identify and develop the skills required to leverage new virtualization approaches, across all parts of their organizations."

According to SHARE's survey, organizations have a long way to go before they're practicing TEV. The good news is that a clear majority of IT organizations are at least tinkering with garden-variety server virtualization: seven out of 10 survey respondents say that they've currently virtualized "some or all" of their servers. Nearly half say they've virtualized their storage assets, and more than a quarter (27 percent) are tinkering with network virtualization. Nearly 20 percent say they've adopted desktop virtualization technologies, and 17 percent are using grid or clustering solutions.

"Virtualization is on the radar screens of a majority of enterprises, and most have already deployed server or storage virtualization solutions," McKendrick indicates. "However, most respondents admit they are still learning and understanding virtualization, and most virtualization efforts are scattered or spotty. Ultimately, a majority sees enterprise virtualization as a long-term IT strategy."

There's more good news, however, in terms of traction: virtualization isn't just a game for players with large budgets. According to the SHARE survey, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of the largest enterprises -- companies with at least 10,000 employees -- have adopted server virtualization. Of course, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of smaller companies -- those with up to 1,000 employees -- are also using some kind of server virtualization technology.

If there's virtual equality between companies of all sizes on the server side, there are virtual inequalities in other respects. Large companies, for example, have a big head start over small and mid-sized companies when it comes to the adoption of virtual storage and networking technologies. More than half of large companies are using storage virtualization (the figure is just over one-third for small companies), and nearly one-third of large companies say they're tinkering with network virtualization (just 18 percent of SMEs are doing so).

The SHARE survey sheds some light on other interesting trends, such as cloud computing. For all of its hype, it's still very much a gestating technology: currently, about 13 percent of large shops and 10 percent of SMEs are using it. There's something instructional about computing in the cloud, however -- at least with respect to the kinds of companies that have deployed cloud technologies. "It is notable that cloud computing is a logical extension of more advanced internal virtualization efforts. Respondents that are moving to cloud computing already have a greater tendency to have other forms of virtualization in production, the survey reveals," says McKendrick.

He cites the prevalence of storage virtualization (77 percent for cloud adopters; 45 percent overall) and network virtualization (56 percent versus 27 percent overall) technologies in shops that are at least dabbling with cloud computing. "A majority of cloud adopters, 51 percent, also are already engaged in application virtualization -- versus 16 percent of the entire survey group."

In mainframe environments, virtualization is a commonplace. There's a tendency, in fact, to think of it as a thing that's done. The opposite is the case in distributed environments, however. Although a slight majority of IT pros say they've had some experience with virtualization, comparatively few admit to having "deep" or "hands-on" expertise.

The upshot, McKendrick says, is a knowledge gap. "While virtualization is well understood, actual hands-on experience is rare," he indicates, noting that more than half of survey respondents (54 percent) say they have "at least some experience with virtualization technologies. However, only 14 percent consider this to be deep, hands-on knowledge of virtualization."

In the near term, this will almost certainly change. More than half (53 percent) of survey respondents say that virtualization (in some form) comprises a part of their long-term strategy. What's more, nearly a quarter (22 percent) of the remaining 47 percent say they're examining virtualization technologies as part of their long-term strategies. Right now, there's very little high-level organization. Most virtualization practices are "spotty," according to McKendrick -- they’re the brainchildren of individual departments or business units.

The rub, if you can call it that, is that many "spotty" virtualization efforts necessarily involve pan-enterprise applications. "While a significant number of virtualization efforts to date may be decentralized, many implementations, or planned implementations, are targeting enterprise systems," McKendrick writes, noting that nearly half (46 percent) of respondents say they're tapping virtualization to support enterprise applications.