Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Virtualization complexity is not going away, so plan for reality

Earlier this year, Cassatt ran our second annual Data Center Survey, getting responses from several hundred data center-related people in our database. Last year's survey (register to download it here) focused mainly on data center energy efficiency. This year, we asked those same questions again -- and then some. Since the issues in the data center have shifted, so have our questions. We hit a broad set of topics -- from virtualization to cloud computing to the impact of the economy on data center efficiency projects.

We’ll be publishing the overall results in a couple weeks, but I have been sifting through the survey data and found some interesting tidbits about virtualization that I thought were worth noting, especially in light of the press announcement we made today (more on that in a moment).

VMware is still the runaway leader, and virtualization is ready for primetime

No news there. More than 81% of our respondents have VMware currently deployed in their environment. But it certainly didn't stop there. Citrix and non-Citrix derivatives of Xen were installed in nearly 23% of organizations. Microsoft Hyper-V topped 17%. Other virtualization technologies were listed as well, including Parallels Virtuozzo Containers, Solaris Containers/Zones, IBM LPARS, and a smattering of others.

We also asked where virtualization was being used. The answer: everywhere. Almost 66% of respondents said they were using virtualization in not only development and test environments but also in production. That's up 3% from our 2008 survey. This year, only 13% were using virtualization solely in dev/test. Virtualization, as if we didn't already know, is all over the place and being relied on to support important applications.

Standardizing on one virtualization technology? IT ops folks don't see it happening

We asked our survey-takers to characterize how they plan to support virtualization in their data centers: did they expect to standardize on just one technology or support multiple? Only 23% said that they plan to support one and only one virtualization technology. Painful as it might be from a management standpoint, nearly 68% of respondents acknowledged that their data centers would have hypervisors from multiple vendors. They either:

· Are already supporting multiple virtualization technologies -- and don't expect that to change (23%)
· Are planning to support multiple virtualization technologies in the future (17%) or
· Hope to support only one virtualization technology, but fully expect that others will appear over time (28%)

Sounds like they have a pretty good handle on what's coming at them.

Managing physical and virtual systems with the same management stack?

Many people seemed to be planning to manage both their virtual servers and more traditional physical server environment with the same tool set. In fact, 41% told us exactly that. Well, that would be nice, wouldn't it? That answer seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, especially if you look at what people are doing right now (like what tools they're using). However, it's one of the things we at Cassatt want to make more and more possible, so we applaud their foresight on this. However, nearly 29% hadn't really made a strategic choice yet about how to manage these mixed physical and virtual environments, which tells me that customers are still thinking about this one. This also puts a big chunk of the organizations out there behind the eight ball, for sure, given how far adoption of virtualization has come. No firm management strategy? Yikes.

How you can plan for all this complexity: prepare for reality

All of these data points point me back to the design point we try to keep in mind when creating Cassatt products: reality. If you read today's announcement, we talked about delivering our new GA-level support for Parallels Virtuozzo Containers. This is in addition to the VMware and Xen support we already have in Cassatt Active Response, and the support for controlling physical servers, too (running Linux, Solaris, Windows, and AIX so far).

Most of the discussions about dynamic data centers or internal clouds that you hear from VMware and others don't bring up any of the real-world diversity that exist in IT shops. Maybe this is one of the reasons that some end users are highly skeptical of the whole concept of more flexible, shared, dynamic infrastructures. You can't talk about improving how someone runs their data center if you're not talking about the actual data center that they have to live with every day. (To be fair, as John Humphreys mentioned in my recent interview with him, Citrix at least acknowledged that having a tool that manages Xen and Hyper-V would be useful in their recent announcements. It's a start, for sure.)

What we're continuing to hear directly from customers and through surveys like the one I previewed a bit here is that virtualization complexity is here to stay. It can't be ignored. Instead, it needs to be taken into account: you'll have applications that use VMware. You'll acquire someone (or be acquired by someone) running Xen. Or Microsoft Hyper-V. Or Virtuozzo. Or (deep breath) all of the above. It's not what you'd like, nor something that's going to make your life as an IT operations professional easier in the short run. But it's reality.

And, when you add in the fact that you still have real, actual, physical servers running in your environment that need care and feeding to support applications, you have a physical and virtual management challenge that warrants an approach that smoothes the running of IT and reduces expenses -- rather than the opposite.

There's more about Cassatt Active Response 5.3, out today, in our press release, and overview product info is on our product pages, if you're interested.

And, incidentally, there are a couple of other interesting points worth highlighting from the survey data that I'll try to write about in upcoming posts prior to the whole report going public.

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