Will Virtualization Deliver as an Enabling Technology?: Page 2

Posted February 10, 2009

Jeff Vance

Jeff Vance

(Page 2 of 2)

Here, the recession is enabling this trend every bit as much as the technologies involved. With more outsourcing, with a workforce in transition, with branch offices shut down and more employees telecommuting as a result, desktops loom as an IT nightmare. Indeed, they already are one. Application delivery is an issue, performance and stability another, and security is probably the biggest headache of all.

“Our philosophy is this: the user’s desktop can never be trusted,” Crosby said. “So, we put a hypervisor on the client, which allows us to provide clear lines of security and resource separation between different virtual machines running on the client.”

With this model, IT is in control. No more relying on end user’s for updates. No more errors introduced by users into applications. No worrying about introduced vulnerabilities. No more time wasted on interoperability.

Back to Reality

Still, if virtualization is to live up to the label of “enabling technology,” it must exist beyond the confines of closed enterprise networks. And to do that, more innovation is needed.

“If you’re a developer who wants to build real cloud applications, you’re not going to find many tools to help you – tools that have been tested and you know that you can rely on,” Smith said. There are things out there from small vendors and startups, but they haven’t been widely tested. Meanwhile, the big vendors like Google only have things in beta.

The proven developer tools tend to be specialized, such as those from Salesforce.com or Microsoft CRM. General purpose tools, on the other hand, are lacking.

“Writing applications for the cloud requires a very large investment from what I like to call ‘rocket scientists,’” Smith said. In other words, if you’re a normal developer, with deadlines and more mundane tasks staring you in the face, writing for the cloud is a project you’d be crazy to tackle.

As virtualization matures, especially if VMware continues to rule the space, another problem emerges: interoperability.

“If you’re content being an all-VMware shop, great,” Waldie of Opengear said. “But you can’t move things around easily, and if you want to support legacy gear or move to Xen or some other platform, you’re in trouble.”

From Plumbing to Behavior

Waldie also pointed to basic plumbing as something virtualization vendors need to consider before they start worrying about cloud computing. One of the biggest benefits already being realized through virtualization concerns power use: Consolidated servers consume less energy.

What they don’t do well, though, is manage power. As more resources reside on fewer servers, power management emerges as a complication few have planned for.

If for some reason, the batteries on your backup power supply are going down, most network UPS’s will shut down servers that aren’t mission-critical. That’s with single-purpose servers. “What they can’t do is handle a server with a bunch of virtual servers on them,” Waldie said. “We haven’t reached the stage of maturity where we can even manage a power outage with virtualized infrastructure.”

There goes the business continuity plan.

According to Simon Crosby of Citrix, these lower-level concerns will work themselves out. They’ll need to be addressed, certainly, but they aren’t show stoppers. He argues that a bigger issue to consider is how new virtualization will force IT to reorganize itself.

“When technology dramatically collides with human culture, that’s when the sparks fly,” he said.

For example, storage professionals will resist virtualization, claiming that it violates best practices for security and compliance. “Virtualization will continue to challenge people’s roles and existing practices. The organizational needs are not fully known. This is the battle for today’s CIO,” Crosby argued. “Virtualization is not an instant panacea. In fact, in many ways adoption is quite painful.”

Crosby doesn’t see this as a bad thing. A more thoughtful approach to virtualization combined with tight budgets may translate into a slower adoption rate in the short term. The long-term result, though, could very well be a more nimble, agile, manageable and sensible IT infrastructure.

As for clouds, SaaS and the like, these things are already happening, of course. But until more mundane issues are addressed, they’ll be islands in a sea of status-quo computing.

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

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