Server virtualization is really not a new concept. Virtualization for the mainframe platform was available in the early 1970’s as a way to securely and reliably share the server resources among different operating system instances and the applications they supported. In the last few years, virtualization for volume servers has not only greatly improved technically, it’s also seen tremendous customer interest. In fact, according to a recent study, industry analyst “IDC estimates that more than three-quarters of all companies with 500+ employees are deploying virtual servers.” IDC also found that a little over half of these servers are running what the customer considered production workloads. So, in the volume server space, we’ve seen virtualization grow out of the development and test scenarios and into production roles. For the rest of this blog, I’ll be discussing virtualization in the volume server space, which has been classically referred to as the X86 server market.
When I talk to customers, I find that they are in different phases of server virtualization deployment. Some are still in the evaluation stage, trying to understand the benefits and the overall impact. Others are starting to use virtual servers in limited scenarios, such as development and testing. On the other end of the spectrum, I talk to a few customers who have been using server virtualization on their servers for two years or more. Interestingly, I haven’t seen a correlation between IT shops that are using virtualization on proprietary systems and adoption on their volume servers. I would have expected that customers who use virtualization on one platform already would be more likely to embrace production virtualization on another platform; but from my experience, this has not been the case.
Invariably, up until now, the primary customer driver I hear for evaluating virtualization has been to reduce costs through hardware consolidation. When you look across your data center and see average server utilization rates in the high teens, or even lower, this seems like a good way to solve the problem. And for many, this does turn out to be quite a boon. However, I do occasionally hear a customer that has begun a virtualization project and isn’t seeing the cost savings they were expecting. To paraphrase: ‘Instead of buying 4 servers for $1500, I’m buying one server for $25,000. It takes too long to realize a return on that investment, especially when I wasn’t planning on replacing some of those servers for a few years anyway.’ If you are in a similar situation, or this is one of your concerns, rest assured. Typically, customers that are 18 months or more into server virtualization deployment tell me that the unexpected benefits they are getting far outweigh the original concerns that caused them to begin the project in the first place.
Server virtualization delivers flexibility that allows IT to respond to the business much more effectively. Once you have a workload, such as a business application, running in a virtual environment you have a lot more flexibility to manage that server. Additionally, you can deploy new servers, supporting new workloads, much more quickly. Customers frequently tell me that they can deploy a new server instance for a business unit in days, when it used to take weeks or even months to obtain, provision and deploy a physical server. Customers are able to deploy servers more quickly, spend less money on replicating their production environment for test and staging purposes, roll back changes and patches to both the OS and the application within an hour or two, rather than a day or two and, in general, provide more efficient and reliable service to the business they support.
To be successful with your virtualization strategy, you really need a combination of technology, technical skills and the right software licensing to enable you to get the maximum benefit from server virtualization. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting parts II and III, covering some new developments in both technology and software licensing, and finally describe some powerful new scenarios that are possible by combining the new technology and software licensing that make sense for virtualization.