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10 Virtualization Predictions for 2009

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The past year was a busy one for virtualization. VMware experienced a management shakeup and introduced its Data Center OS initiative. Microsoft released the first real products in its virtualization suite and started hyping its cloud platform, Windows Azure.

Citrix, Red Hat and Sun all tried to keep pace via acquisitions, and virtualization started to spread beyond the data center to desktops. All of that activity was merely a preamble to what is shaping up to be an even more active virtualization year in 2009. Here are ten trends to watch for:

1. The bad economy will be a boon for virtualization.

Virtualization will gain IT dollars at the expense of other technologies for one reason: cost. Technologies that require high upfront expenditures but take time to generate ROI will be put on hold, while technologies like virtualization that promise immediate cost savings will enjoy broader adoption.

Even with analysts calling virtualization a “mainstream” technology already, there is still a lot of opportunity out there. Scott Crenshaw, Red Hat’s VP of the Platform Business Unit, estimates that only 10% of the world’s servers have been virtualized, and most of those involved relatively simple workloads.

Frances Karamouzis, research VP with research firm Gartner, believes that virtualization is well positioned for the coming year, but she points out that licensing continues to be an obstacle. “The software licensing model from vendors like SAP is designed to maximize vendor revenues. If you run SAP on ten servers, virtual or not, you pay for ten licenses. In other words, you pay for over-provisioning, for failover and backups. Customers will start to rebel against these pricing schemas,” she predicted. “They’ll demand to pay-per-use pricing models.”

2009 should be the year that licensing models finally evolve to accommodate technologies like virtualization and utility computing.

2. CIOs will remember that there’s storage out there to virtualize.

Storage is the forgotten stepchild of virtualization. It’s not as easy as server virtualization. Not as obvious as desktop virtualization, and not as sexy as mobile virtualization.

Storage is boring – but it’s essential and it’s a big opportunity for future virtualization efforts.

3. VMware will continue to evolve into an infrastructure provider for cloud computing.

In September VMware rolled out its virtual datacenter operating system, or VDC OS. This is not a product in and of itself, but rather a set of features and capabilities available in VMware’s portfolio.

Cynics say that VDC OS is all about marketing, with few new features, and they have a point. What VDC OS also does, though, is point to VMware’s future roadmap. VMware believes that its technologies will be the core infrastructure that enables future IT models, such as cloud and utility computing.

Leena Joshi, senior product marketing manager for VMware, put it this way when we spoke in 2008: “Enterprises don’t care about the application or the OS as such. What enterprises want are productivity and performance. What they want are service levels that can be agreed upon and measured. They care about performance parameters, about downtime, about charge-backs. Our vision of cloud computing is that applications will become platform agnostic. It won’t matter where they physically reside, where users access them from, or even what devices those users choose.”

A poor economy could come into play here. If Microsoft Vista continues to be maligned, if IT dollars stay tight, and if VMware and some Linux-based partners offer alternatives that stretch from the data center through to the client, customers might make the shift, especially if open-source Office alternatives prove to be compatible with existing data stores and easy to manage.

4. Desktop virtualization will gain momentum.

Desktop virtualization is a case of a lot of talk and not much action. There have been some deployments here and there, but nothing major. Expect that to change in 2009.

In December VMware launched View 3, which has a number of features that makes desktop virtualization a real possibility, rather than an IT science project. Citrix, Sun, IBM and Red Hat have all been building out their desktop virtualization portfolios as well. Expect to see real traction in 2009.

5. Virtualization will become an enabling technology for service-based computing.

It’s not just VMware playing up virtualization’s role in cloud computing. Even foot-dragger Microsoft now believes that cloud computing is inevitable – whether they like it or not.

Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud computing platform is a clear indication that computing as we know it is about to change. For most of us, it already has, but Microsoft is known for market domination, not driving trends.

When I asked Scott Crenshaw of Red Hat how he sees the virtualization space evolving in the next five years or so, he summed it up as such: “I see virtualization being integrated into core platforms. Management tools will have to evolve for that to happen, of course. People want one management tool for all different types of capacities, not a bunch of different discrete management tools. Finally, there will be a shift to service-based IT. You’ll have a pool of capacity and a pool of applications. IT will deliver these services internally first. While I believe more general cloud computing will come into being eventually, I see the internal clouds driving this trend.”

6. Green IT will dovetail with virtualization.

Could there be some government incentives coming? Obama has been talking up renewable energy and various incentives that would help businesses conserve energy. Could green IT benefit?

Various utilities are already offering incentives for virtualization projects incentives for virtualization projects . Expect to see more incentives and green IT investments soon.

7. Mobile virtualization gets its first real deployments.

As desktop virtualization takes hold, vendors will push beyond tethered clients to mobile devices.

“Over the last ten years, we’ve been moving at a glacial pace towards the Internet – the real Internet – on mobile devices. Part of the problem is that expectations are so high,” said John Madden, research director of the market-analysis firm Ovum. “And it’s not just a technical issue. It’s a business issue. If you’re in sales or marketing or product design, the any-device, any-time, anywhere delivery model offers real competitive advantages. Virtualization can certainly help on the technical side, but the business drivers will have to emerge elsewhere.”

The iPhone could certainly be a driver. iPhone owners are more of a cult than a traditional user base, and they certainly like anything trendy that comes along to make their gadget a little bit fancier than everyone else’s. Mobile access to full desktops would certainly be a nice trinket to show off to friends.

And if you think I’m just using this as an excuse to make fun of the Apple cult, think again. VMware and Citrix are both actively working on
smart phone virtualization .

8. Management tools will grow in importance.

As virtualization takes hold, managing various resources will become more and more important. Management tools are sketchy today, although vendors are all hyping the fact that they’re getting better.

If the main virtualization vendors don’t improve and consolidate their management capabilities, expect a third party to step in and do it for them.

9. By the end of 2009, there will still be a heck of a lot of servers left to virtualize.

To reiterate, only 10% of the world’s servers are virtualized. Many never will be. Even if 2009 sees a flurry of activity, we’ll still be a ways away from a service-based IT world.

10. More acquisitions are on the way.

2008 saw a slew of virtualization-related acquisitions. Microsoft bought Calista Technologies in early 2008. Sun purchased Innotek. Red Hat acquired Qumranet, and VMware went on a spending spree, picking up Thinstall, Foedus, Trango Virtual Processors, Blue Lane Technologies and Tungsten Graphics.

Rumors flew around this summer that VMware might acquire Red Hat, although nothing has come of it. Could a bad economy spur a big-name acquisition, with someone like VMware, Red Hat or Citrix getting acquired?

With Microsoft making inroads into the virtualization space, what’s to stop a Cisco from deciding they need to compete in the space and snatching up VMware to do so? Microsoft could even make a run at VMware if its own virtualization efforts continue to stagnate. Remember, VMware CEO Paul Maritz used to be a top executive at Microsoft. How about a big software vendor like SAP offering better licensing agreements if you go with their virtualization platform, a platform gained with the acquisition of Citrix?

Those scenarios are long shots, although not out of the realm of possibility. What’s more likely is that remaining virtualization startups will burn through what’s left of their VC dollars and have a hard time raising more. Then, established vendors will swoop in and do some bargain shopping.

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