Remember when nothing was virtualized in the high-tech world? When servers were servers and software was software and firm boundaries existed that any bean counter could calculate? You need more capacity? Then you need to buy one more server and one more operating system to go with that server. You want two more servers? Well, do the math.
As the recent news coming from events such as the VMworld conference in San Francisco indicate, the era of virtualization is now fully upon the technology industry. If you cant show how your product operates in this new virtual layer above the traditional operating system and below where the productivity applications reside, you cant come to the party. However, unlike other virtual worlds—that would be the avatar-populated worlds, including Second Life—the current changeover to virtualized IT infrastructure is real and a valuable goal for CIOs to pursue.
Three larger economic trends beyond technology developments are helping to propel virtualization.
The first trend is the uncertainty that now darkens the economy. Traditionally, when the economy gets shaky, IT budgets swing from investments that can spur growth to investments that can save money. Right now, you would be hard-pressed to find companies willing to build out new capacity to meet growth projections that may or may not happen in 2008.
The second trend is the move to green computing. Pushing electricity and pumping cooling air over servers running at a third or less of their capabilities makes bad ecological and economic sense. Smart CIOs and IT managers are getting ahead of the curve by investigating electrical use, cooling loads, and the cost of building and maintaining data centers before the company president and board start asking just how efficiently the company is operating its technology facilities. It is not often that a company can accomplish two eco (economic and ecological) objectives in one operation, but an intelligent approach to virtualization does offer that promise.
The third trend is the always-on corporation that needs to adjust its 24/7 computing operations based on customer demand. Without virtualization, the difficulty of bringing in new systems to meet a surge in demand, incorporating outside computing services into your existing operation and pushing content to a range of mobile devices is largely outside the technology capabilities of mere mortals.
Virtualization has gone from largely being one choice—VMware—to a range of choices, extending from startups such as SWsoft and Virtual Iron to Microsoft, Dell and Cisco Systems. Meanwhile, the virtual concept continues to work its way through the rest of the IT stack.
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