The Great Virtualization Debate

by Tony Lock

With virtualization close to the top of every CIO’s to do list, we undertook the task of finding out how well server, storage and desktop virtualization is currently understood and where it is being applied, discovering what is driving adoption and, just as interestingly, what is holding it back.


The ‘why?’ of virtualization is fully accepted; now it’s about the ‘where?’ and the ‘how?’

When views on the role of virtualization were gathered during a recent online survey of around 1,500 IT professionals, it was clear that virtualized infrastructures were generally accepted as a fundamental component of the modern IT landscape. This confirms that virtualization is not only ‘fashionable’, but that the potential to deliver tangible value is widely appreciated. It is time, therefore, for IT vendors, consultants, analysts and, indeed, those in mainstream IT departments, to move conversations on from the high level rationale to specific practicalities.

The center of gravity for mainstream activity is virtualization of x86 platforms

While virtualization in proprietary platform environments is nothing new, and all areas of IT infrastructure are ultimately a target for the virtualization approach, the center of gravity for activity today is currently around x86 servers. With almost 90% of large organizations participating in this study doing something in this area, and over half indicating use of virtualized x86 platforms for business critical applications, there is no doubt at all that this type of solution is now mainstream. Concerns about robustness and fitness for purpose are now becoming a thing of the past.

Storage virtualization remains a specialist domain, which may be limiting adoption

The broader IT professional community is much less familiar with virtualization in the context of storage. This understandable in larger organizations where storage architecture and management is generally considered a specialist discipline. Perceived complexity, however, could be limiting uptake in smaller environments where more generalist skill sets predominate.

While interest is there, adoption of desktop virtualization is currently behind the curve

The theoretical benefits of desktop virtualization in terms of better use of hardware and improved manageability appear to be appreciated in an abstract sense, but few organizations have translated this sentiment into specific business cases, plans or activity. The prospect of another wave of Microsoft desktop upgrades in the coming year or two may be the prompt that changes this.

Suppliers have an important role to play in smoothing the path going forward

While enthusiasm for virtualization is high, there are several areas in which IT professionals want to see change. Chief amongst these is a desire for software licensing models to better reflect the inherent flexibility of virtualized environments. Another common request is for application and middleware vendors to formally support virtualized deployments of their solutions, which is not always the case today. While we wait for vendors to overcome their inertia, it is still a case of caveat emptor. This will change over time, but we advise for now that virtualization friendliness is added as standard to the list of software selection criteria when making purchase decisions.

During the research upon which this report is based, feedback was gathered from 1459 IT professionals representing a broad cross section of differently sized organizations in the UK, USA and the rest of the world. While the study was funded (indirectly) by VMware as part of an online debate series run by The Register news and analysis site (, all work was carried out in accordance with the independent spirit of community research, with Freeform Dynamics remaining in control of study design, execution, analysis, interpretation and reporting.

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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.