Will Virtualization Deliver as an Enabling Technology?

Despite the hype, a number of mundane issues need to be worked out before virtualization can reach its true potential.
Posted February 10, 2009

Jeff Vance

Jeff Vance

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While virtualization is clearly one of the bright spots for IT during the recession, it’s getting perilously close to being overhyped. Vendors have moved beyond servers and are pitching virtualization as an enabling tool for everything from thin computing to cloud computing to SaaS. Yet as any good salesperson knows, what you want to do to ensure customer satisfaction is under-promise and over-deliver.

Are virtualization vendors guilty of doing the opposite?

I posed this question to David Mitchell Smith, a VP and Fellow at the research firm Gartner. “I think part of the problem is simple semantics,” Smith said. “No two people using the term ‘cloud’ mean the same thing. Is it an internal cloud, which virtualization vendors are capitalizing on? Or is it the public cloud, which isn’t at all dependent on virtualization?”

Smith argues that virtualization vendors are much better at typical enterprise IT – internal clouds – than with public clouds. In fact, most public clouds aren’t even using virtualization today. “If you ask Salesforce.com if they plan to adopt virtualization, they’ll say ‘no.’ They built out their infrastructure before virtualization came along, and they aren’t going to change it,” Smith said.

According to with Bob Waldie, CEO of Opengear, the typical enterprise is worried about much more mundane things than creating new computing models. “Our experience is that most organizations aren’t planning for virtualization as part of a cloud or SaaS vision,” he said.

Opengear, an infrastructure management provider, works with its customers to manage virtualization in multi-vendor environments. “The driver is still cost,” Waldie said. “Virtualization is a great cost management tool. With server consolidation, you manage more than server costs. You maximize floor space and power consumption. You limit the need for air conditioning. These are things a business can quantify.”

It’s much harder to quantify the benefits of switching to cloud computing or SaaS.

Where Are All These Cloud Anyway?

Citrix believes that it has the answer. While Citrix doesn’t generate the press of a VMware or Microsoft, the company has been quietly building up its virtualization arsenal. With the acquisition of XenWorks, they should be considered a serious player. “You won’t find VMware in the cloud,” argued Simon Crosby, CTO of the Citrix virtualization and management division. “You will find us. The whole notion of cloud computing is being driven by Xen.”

That may be an overstatement, but Crosby has a point. A major cloud computing success story, Amazon Web Services, built out its offering on Xen. If virtualization is to serve as an enabling technology, it has to start somewhere, and that start is a success story for Citrix.

“Primarily what Amazon is offering is lower-level things like EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud] and S3 [Simple Storage Service], which for all intents and purposes are really just virtualization,” Gartner’s Smith said. “They [Amazon] are the example of virtualization in the cloud. Others are not.”

However, Crosby was cautious about over-hyping the reality. “Today, most of the applications going up into big public clouds are pretty stateless. They’re Web front-ends and what have you. Enterprise applications aren’t there yet,” he said.

For now, concerns about security, business continuity and regulatory compliance are big roadblocks for the enterprise – which points us back towards internal clouds.

Turning Back Inside

Within the enterprise, Citrix – and a slew of other virtualization vendors – is honing in not on internal clouds, per se, but on the specific use case of desktop virtualization coupled with application delivery.

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Tags: Microsoft, virtualization, Citrix, VMware, Salesforce.com

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