Forrester: Fake servers like recessions
Even if you don't
Ah, there's nothing like a recession to kick IT industry trends into a higher gear - and get those IT analysts out there preaching change and cost cutting.
Today, it was Forrester Research's turn to talk up virtualization on servers and PCs as well as cloud computing as part of its sales pitch for two new reports it has put out casing the climate in data centers these days.
Those reports - called The State Of Emerging Enterprise Hardware Trends: 2008 To 2009 and The State Of Emerging SMB Hardware Trends: 2008 To 2009 - are based on a survey that Forrester did with 2,600 IT managers and other decision makers in the United States and across Europe to gauge their current and future plans with regards to various technologies and strategies.
This is a much large sample than we typically see behind such studies, but you have to bear in mind that this survey was done in the third quarter of 2008, before the global economy went on the fritz in a big way. Moreover, with the studies costing two grand a pop, you would expect a larger survey sample and more details.
According to the tidbits that Frank Gillett, the principal analyst at Forrester who put together the two reports, some 54 per cent of large companies polled have already implemented server virtualization in one form or another on some of their machines or will do so in the next 12 months. The statistic, as it turns out, is nearly the same for small and medium businesses. 53 per cent of SMBs reported they have done the fake server thing already or will do so within the next year.
Now, the fact that a little more than half of the companies polled report that they have monkeyed around with server virtualization in its many forms is not the same thing as saying half the servers at these companies have been virtualized, and it is surely no indication of what percentage of production servers have been virtualized. Test and development took a shining to virtualization early, and given the nature of the job - messing around with lots of software stacks and testing code before putting it into production - this is what you would expect.
Getting web servers and other infrastructure workloads virtualized is also comparatively easy and has a fairly big and immediate payback. But virtualizing the kind of mission-critical applications that tend to run on bigger boxes (application servers, database servers, and such) is much more problematic.
Attach Rate Shrink
And that is why the current attach rate of virtualization products on x64 machinery is estimated by Gartner to be at somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent. That figure was cited to me by Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer for the XenServer products at Citrix Systems, as part of the Essentials bundles Citrix announced  last week. (I dropped that bit of data into a story  about virtualization uptake on IBM's Power Systems iron to give a sense of contrast). Cosby said that Gartner expected virtualization to have a 50 per cent attach rate on x64 iron by 2010. But these attach rate numbers for virtualization sound high to me.
Forrester didn't count boxes to get a sense of virtualization uptake, but it did ask companies what percentage of their operating systems had been virtualized. The enterprise-class companies polled by Forrester reported that, on average, they had virtualized 31 per cent of their operating instances, adding that in the next two years the average would rise to 54 per cent. (It was not clear from the statement put out by Forrester if this was across all server architectures).
Amazingly, the penetration of OS instances that had been virtualized among SMB shops was higher, according to the Forrester survey data, with SMBs reporting that, on average, 36 per cent of their OSes have been virtualized and said that 61 per cent would be virtualized in two years. Again, these numbers all sound high to me, particularly for the SMBs.
Virtualization is also getting some thought on the desktop, according to Forrester, with 74 per cent of SMBs and 70 per cent of enterprises saying that they want to chop their PC acquisition and support costs by adopting some form of client virtualization. Thus far, server-based virtual PCs have not exactly taken the world by storm, and that is because no one wants to support servers either.
For all the talk about cloud computing - by which Forrester means pay-per-use renting of virtual servers - it is still in its early adopter phase. Some 5 per cent of enterprises reported in the survey back in the third quarter that they have implemented such VMs and another 3 per cent said they would do so within a year. Only 2 per cent of SMBs had deployed cloud-style VMs, and only another 2 per cent thought they would within the next 12 months.
"These survey results demonstrate that firms large and small are in the midst of rethinking and overhauling IT infrastructure and client systems, with new approaches for greater flexibility, efficiency, and performance," said Gillett.
The question now is this: Has the economic downturn accelerated server virtualization? Or hampered it? To do virtualization properly on x64 iron really requires the latest x64 processors, and that means spending money on new hardware when your boss, the bean counter, really doesn't want you to do that. It is much harder to justify the expense of new servers and virtualization management stacks in this economy, and projects that maintain or boost revenues or cut costs drastically are the ones that are going to get funding.
Companies that are willing to sacrifice some performance or not use a full-blown virtual machine hypervisor (like ESX Server or XenServer) but settle for a virtual private server setup instead (think Virtuozzo or Solaris containers), can virtualize on older iron. It will be interesting to see what companies do.
All the talk about power and cooling efficiency had not gone away as the economic meltdown was starting to ramp up. Forrester said that 81 per cent of enterprises had "some interest" in increasing the efficiency of their electricity usage in their data centers, but only 18 per cent said they were "very interested." SMB shops could basically care less. They have much bigger problems, like trying to stay in business at all. ®