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Virtualization Will Be the Highest-Impact IT Trend Through 2012

Virtualization will transform how IT is managed, what is bought, how it is deployed, how companies plan and how they are charged

Virtualization will be the highest-impact trend changing infrastructure and operations through 2012, according to Gartner. Virtualization will transform how IT is managed, what is bought, how it is deployed, how companies plan and how they are charged. As a result, virtualization is creating a new wave of competition among infrastructure vendors that will result in considerable market disruption and consolidation over the next few years.

"Virtualization is hardly a new concept; storage has already been virtualized — albeit primarily within the scope of individual vendor architectures — and networking is also virtualized," said Philip Dawson, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "However, as both server and PC virtualization become more pervasive, traditional IT infrastructure orthodoxy is being challenged and is changing the way business works with IT."

According to Gartner, the leading edge of this change is server virtualization, which promises to unlock much of the underutilized capacity of existing server architectures. Server virtualization is already having an impact on the server market; Gartner believes that virtualization reduced the x86 server market by 4 percent in 2006. As hypervisor prices drop and management costs decrease because of increased competition, virtualization will have a larger impact, and Gartner analysts predict that more than 4 million virtual machines will be installed on x86 servers by 2009.

The use of PC virtualization is also set to increase. The number of virtualized PCs is expected to grow from less than 5 million in 2007 to 660 million by 2011. On the PC, the decoupling technology that breaks the close ties and dependencies between hardware and software occurs at two levels: between hardware and the operating system (machine virtualization) and between the operating system and applications (application virtualization).

Although application virtualization is gaining considerable interest, Gartner maintains that it is machine virtualization that will have a more-long-term impact, making personal computing more manageable, flexible and secure by allowing multiple individual footprints to be defined on the same device.

"Essentially, virtualization creates a fork in the road for operating systems," said Thomas Bittman, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Traditionally the operating system has been the center of gravity for client and server computing, but new technologies, new modes of computing, and infrastructure virtualization and automation are changing the architecture and role of the operating system. The days of the monolithic, general-purpose operating system will soon be over."

Infrastructure vendors that have always vied for the largest share of budgets on a best-of breed basis must alter their approach. In the future, the virtualization and automation of infrastructure will be managed by policies at a business-service level, requiring all parts of the infrastructure to work in harmony. This concerns some vendors, which believe a smooth-running and standardized infrastructure threatens to commoditize their component parts and are keen to establish a critical "linchpin" status in the market.

"This competition will play itself out in the market and in users' infrastructure, and it will be messy," said Mr. Dawson. "Eventually a few dominant infrastructure control architectures will emerge, and in those architectures, vendors will solidify a span on control in a hierarchy of governance."

As a result of the uncertainty that will prevail over the market in the short-to-medium term, Mr. Bittman advised against following a specific vendor's vision and instead advised users to determine their own vision of architecture control and build toward it with a constantly updated strategic plan. "In the medium term, align your virtualization strategy with the business, avoid vendor hype and beware of software pricing and licensing," he said. "Be prepared to experiment, but make sure that you are the scientist, not the subject."

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SYS-CON's Virtualization News Desk trawls the news sources of the world for the latest details of virtualization technologies, products, and market trends, and provides breaking news updates from the Virtualization Conference & Expo.

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