Reports Confirm Virtualization's Growing Popularity

No one seems to know just how pervasive virtualization is, but everybody seems to agree that at some point -- perhaps very soon – it' will be ubiquitous.

No one seems to know just how pervasive virtualization is today, but everybody seems to agree that at some point -- perhaps very soon -- virtualization will be ubiquitous. According to Gartner Inc., International Data Corp. (IDC), and other industry watchers, it might mean that as little as half -- or closer to 60 percent -- of compute, networking, and storage resources will be virtualized.

Consider a recent study from International Data Corp. (IDC), which found that -- among shops that were willing to talk candidly about how much (or how little) they'd virtualized their infrastructures -- 38 percent seemed to be the magic number. In other words, IDC researchers said, under two-fifths of all (distributed) compute resources are currently virtualized.

There's a caveat, of course. IDC's study deals with virtualization and blade servers. Blades have emerged as the preferred platform for virtualization -- in the distributed world, at least. Although Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), and IBM Corp. still sell plenty of conventional rack-mounted servers, IDC predicts that blade sales will continue to increase, thanks chiefly to their suitability for strategic virtualization efforts (See http://esj.com/articles/2010/04/13/blade-server-bet.aspx).

Because of its blade-specific bias, IDC's tally is probably too optimistic. According to its own market research, for example, less than one-fifth (18.2 percent) of all the servers that shipped in Q4 of 2009 were "virtualized." Although that figure constitutes a near-20-percent improvement over the year-ago period (when 15.2 percent of all servers were "virtualized"), it's still a far cry from the 38 percent reported by IDC's blade-adopting virtualizers.

This projection is borne out by other reports, however.

Late last year, for example, Gartner Inc. disclosed that just one-sixth of all server workloads were running in a virtual machine context.

Gartner conceded that virtualization was "not currently as widespread as many presume," but nonetheless predicted that pervasive virtualization was just around the corner. In fact, said Gartner analyst Tom Bittman, fully half of all x86 systems will be virtualized by 2012. What's more, Bittman predicted, SMB and SME shops will soon be more ardent virtualizers than large Global 500 organizations.

"By year-end 2010, enterprises with [less than 1,000] employees will have a higher penetration of virtual machines deployed than the Global 500," said Bittman, in an October release. "For years the entry point was simply too high for small enterprises, but increased competition by server vendors has enabled smaller firms to embrace virtualization."

This month, a survey of more than 300 IT pros conducted by Prism Microsystems Inc. -- a provider of security auditing and logging software -- suggested something of a virtualization mixed bag. The majority of virtualization adopters (53.5 percent) say they've virtualized a third or fewer of their IT infrastructures. Slightly less than one-fifth (19.6 percent) of respondents said they'd virtualized between 31 percent and 60 percent of their infrastructures.

Prism, like Gartner, says virtualization adopters are ramping up quickly. By next year (i.e., 2011) it predicts, a majority of shops will have succeeded in virtualizing more than 50 percent of their IT infrastructures.

Although IDC, unlike Gartner, stops short of forecasting a virtualization tipping point -- i.e., a soon-and-inevitably-to-be-reached-milestone where at least half of a shop's workloads execute in a virtual machine context -- it's nonetheless bullish about virtualization. In a session at VMWare Inc.'s Virtualization Forum -- held last November in Orange County, Calif. -- IDC analyst Michelle Bailey disclosed that just under half of all respondents to an IDC survey on virtualization had cited a preference for a "virtualization first" configuration (as opposed to a conventional standalone rig) in their new server builds.

More recently, IDC remarked the "strategic" importance of blades and predicted that ultra-dense, wholly virtualized private clouds will power a portion of the next-gen data center. "Blades are the foundation servers for converged systems, which will become the building blocks of private clouds," said IDC senior researcher Jed Scaramella, in a release. "Enterprises are on an evolutionary path away from disparate IT silos toward virtual resource pools that form an internal cloud infrastructure."