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Virtualisation and sorcery: We’re all apprentices now

VM utopia too good to be true?

Lab It’s funny to think what might be made of this virtualisation lab in a few years’ time. When we kicked it off back in December last year, we wanted to gauge where organisations large and small were really at – and after a barrage of questions and a solid level of feedback, we think we now know. Whatever the evangelists and early adopters might think about virtualisation, it’s still early days for many organisations.

Virtualisation has seen by far the greatest adoption on x86 servers (hush, you mainframe people, you know what I mean), but even while most organisations we spoke to might have a virtualisation project underway, there is still a long way to go.

Will virtualisation be delivered ‘as standard’ on servers in the future? Is it fair to say this seems inevitable? We think so – after all, it’s already included as standard with Windows Server and a goodly proportion of Linux distributions. Most vendors have recognised that there’s little money to be made out of virtualization itself, and have focused on charging for management tools.

Meanwhile we have storage and desktop virtualisation, both of which we have touched upon in the course of the workshop. What have we learned? That just because the word ‘virtualisation’ may be shared, the actual technologies involved are very different. Indeed and as we have said, desktop virtualisation covers capabilities from thin client and virtual desktop infrastructure to application virtualisation and single-desktop virtual machines.

The term ‘virtualisation’ may represent a multitude of technologies, but what they all share is what they enable – increased flexibility for IT operations. In this regard there is plenty to like. While we’ve heard feedback from Reg readers who may question the point of virtualisation (generally those who are maxing out their servers anyway), nobody has pushed back on the advantages offered to IT pros on the front line.

That doesn’t mean that virtualisation is always easy. According to your feedback it’s like the girl with the little curl – when it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, it appears to have given no end of gyp. Virtualisation appears to be one of those areas that cannot be implemented fully without serious planning, and if you’re one of those organisations that has rolled it out without too much thought and no major hitch, then you may have just got lucky.

Virtualisation is perhaps unique in the history of IT, in that it hasn’t been foisted on the market, and (not coincidentally), there hasn’t been any major backlash. In the parlance of IT punditry, people talk about hype cycles in relation to IT adoption – an all-too-accurate assessment of the dubious way many technologies arrive in the mainstream. Virtualisation has suffered no such trough of disillusionment – yet. But will it?

The answer is perhaps yes, but not for the traditional reasons. Generally when a technology goes into the trough, it is because it was overhyped in the first place. Virtualisation has been less hyped – it’s ironic to be sure, that there has been a fair amount of evangelism around virtualisation, given that many organisations were already bought into the concept. It’s like a bad Monty Python sketch: “You need some of this.” “Yes, I know.” “No, really, you do, it’s great!” “I know!” “But…” “Look, I know, it’s great! Now why don’t you just bugger off and leave me alone?”

In the case of virtualisation, disillusion will not come because the technology has (or range of technologies have) been overhyped. Rather, and as has become apparent from some of your feedback, it will come through the unintended consequences of what it enables.

"Ain’t it great,” you say, “With virtualisation I can spin up a new machine with a click of my fingers!” And so, like an army of sorcerer’s apprentices we shall click our fingers and create a proliferation of virtual machines... each of which requires managing, patching, backing up, securing and so on.

Virtual machine sprawl is already an issue for some. With good management tools, it is possible (we are told) to keep on top of the virtual machine estate, in much the same way that it is theoretically possible to keep on top of servers, desktops and storage in general. This is not an insurmountable issue – if it is planned and budgeted for. But we know how good we are at planning and budgeting for management tools!

Despite this note of concern, we remain pretty upbeat about virtualisation in all its flavours. It’s testament to just how powerful computers have become, and offers a sniff of the potential that still remains to be uncovered as they become more powerful still. This looks set to be quite a ride, so it just remains to say thank you for all your attention and feedback, and let’s all see just how far the rabbit hole goes. ®

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