Server Virtualization Remains an Infrastructure Challenge: Gartner

Despite recent moves into server virtualization, companies have not shifted enough of their server workloads, said Gartner.

Companies are steadily marching toward virtualization, but they have to plan for more virtual and physical servers to see the benefits, said Gartner on Sept. 27.

Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of enterprises have a virtualization program or project, only 25 percent of all server workloads will be in a virtual machine by the end of 2010, according to the market research firm.

While many IT leaders believe that they have already virtualized their x86 servers, they need to invest in architecture that can support two or three times more VMs, according to analysts.

"Virtualization will continue as the highest-impact issue challenging infrastructure and operations through 2015, changing how you manage, how and what you buy, how you deploy, how you plan and how you charge," said Philip Dawson, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement.

Networking has been virtualized, with companies consolidating multiple physical networks into a single virtual network, or logically segmenting a network into multiple virtual LANs. Storage is also virtualized, as IT administrators add, remove and modify storage resources without impacting the users. The next challenge, according to Gartner analysts, is server virtualization.

Approximately 90 percent of the server market is composed of x86 servers, Gartner estimates, but they are woefully underutilized because of the way they are set up. Under the traditional model, IT managers generally set up servers specializing in one application, such as a dedicated mail server, Web server and database server. As a result, roughly 80 to 90 percent of the server's computing capacity remains unused at any given time.

"Virtualization now drives efficient IT from all angles, including data center design, platform updates, and application and infrastructure modernization, as well as traditional and new delivery models, such as infrastructure utility and cloud computing," said Dawson.

Getting rid of physical machines and hosting multiple virtual machines on a single host to handle these applications save companies money, but it's not the only benefit, said Gartner. With an established virtual server environment, companies see faster server deployments, reduced downtime, disaster recovery, variable usage accounting and usage chargeback, and holistic capacity planning.

Gartner also predicted companies will shift back to thin clients by moving management activities from the individual PCs to the server. With hosted virtual desktops, administrators can centrally manage desktops, but it will require more computing and storage capacity on the server side.

As virtualization matures, the next "big thing" will be automating the composition and management of the virtualized resources, added Dawson.

Managing virtual servers can speed up deployments and make it easier to manage updates. IT managers can define virtual machine specifications and have the management software work out the optimal arrangement of the VMs on existing host machines. The automation can extend to auto-installing the operating system and necessary software, as well. It can adjust accordingly as newer VMs or physical servers are added.

Licensing continues to be a "major stumbling block" for mainstream adoption of virtualization, Gartner said. Vendors are changing their software pricing and license provisions to accommodate virtual use, and companies need to carefully analyze those changes and anticipate how their environment is affected.

According to Gartner, companies can face increased costs and "unintended impairment" of their current license rights if they don't monitor how vendors are addressing virtualization.

"Virtualization does take investment; the savings are not a given," said Dawson.