Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Interview with IDC's Al Gillen: in 2009, virtualization will help bridge to the cloud

When I first started this blog a few months back, I told you we'd do our best to bring you a cogent collection of useful ideas, opinions, and other relevant tidbits from those steeped in the world of running data centers. So far, that's generally taken the form of blogging from industry events (like my posts from the Gartner Data Center Conference in Vegas in early December) or commentary on IT ops topics sparked by an article or event. Our chief engineer, Craig Vosburgh, even got in on the act last month, launching the first in a series of posts scrutinizing the necessary components of cloud computing, relying on his experience in this space (and his highly tuned B.S. detector, I might add) to help cut through the hype.

And now for something completely different.

In that first blog post, I promised we'd feature give-and-take interviews with people you should know, in and around the world of IT. We're starting the new year off with a bang, in fact: today's post is the first of these interviews -- an interview with Al Gillen, program vice president of system software at IDC. When we talked to Al about Cassatt's "internal cloud" capabilities announcement in November, he had some interesting observations about virtualization, cloud computing, and where the industry is headed.

I recently had a chance to ask him about some of these comments in a little more detail, and I'm posting his responses today and tomorrow. By the way, Al was just recently promoted to run the Enterprise Virtualization Software research team at IDC following the departure of John Humphreys to Citrix. Nicely done, Al.

In today's excerpt, Al notes some shifts in the reasons people are virtualizing servers. In 2009, he says, it won't all be about consolidation. But, as the shift toward virtualization continues, the need for a way to manage virtual systems (in parallel with physical servers, I might add) becomes much more urgent. He believes this move toward virtualization is actually a bridge to cloud computing.

Here’s an excerpt of that interview:

Jay Fry, Cassatt Data Center Dialog: Congrats on the expanded role at IDC, Al. When we talked last you mentioned the industry was starting to see the "secondary impact of virtualization" -- one of which being a necessary intersection between systems management and virtualization. Can you explain a little about what you are seeing out there?

Al Gillen, IDC: The first wave of virtualization adoption was heavily weighted to consolidation and server footprint reduction. Those use cases were a natural fit for virtualization, and to be honest, there is still lots of consolidation to take place in the industry. But users find out very quickly that server consolidation does nothing to simplify the management of the operating systems and layered software, and in some cases, can make it more complex, especially if there is any balancing going on aboard the virtualized servers. Therefore, organizations that did not have a strong management solution in place before beginning to adopt virtualization will be finding that is their next most important acquisition.

DCD: How do you see the virtualization market changing in 2009?

Al Gillen: Our survey data is finding that consolidation is no longer the stand-out favorite use case for virtualization. To be sure, consolidation is not going away, but other use cases are growing in popularity as a primary objective for deploying a virtualized solution. Use cases such as high availability and disaster recovery are emerging as strong use cases today. The other factor in play here is that a lot of the largest consolidation opportunities -- not all of them, but many of them -- already have either been consolidated or are committed to a consolidation strategy and to a given vendor. As a result, the "green field" for large scale consolidations is becoming less green and less big. However, the opportunity for larger numbers of smaller scale consolidations is still enormous.

DCD: How will the economy affect how organizations are adopting virtualization?

Al Gillen: The economic conditions are likely to drive customers more quickly toward virtualization simply because the IT departments, which often are seen by management as a cost center, will be charged with reducing expenses, while still delivering the services the business needs to be successful. Being charged with "doing more with less" has been the mandate that has helped many of the transitional technologies that we now consider mainstream to get a first foothold. Can you say Linux? x86? Or Windows?

DCD: You probably guessed I was going to ask a cloud computing question. How do you think what's going on with virtualization intersects with or is different from cloud computing?

Al Gillen: There is no question that virtualization will serve as the bridge to bring customers from today's physical data center to the compute resource that will serve as tomorrow's data center. Virtualization serves several roles in this transition, including a "proof of concept" that you really can pool multiple smaller machines into a larger resource and begin to allocate and consume the resulting superset of resources in an intelligent, scalable, and reliable manner. But virtualization also will be the lubricant that makes it possible to slide software stacks off the hardware foundations to which the software used to be permanently attached. That said, cloud will be adopted very much on a transitional basis, and will penetrate different verticals and different platforms at different rates. I believe we will be talking about the transition to cloud computing for the next 15 years.

Next time: more from Al on cloud computing and the impact of the economic meltdown.

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