The virtual reality of virtualization

Virtualization has become such a hot topic that many data center managers see it as a panacea, without taking into account just how early in its lifecycle the technology actually is.

NEW YORK -- The buzz surrounding virtualization technology has grown much louder in the past 12 months, powered by raised awareness of its benefits and the need for simplicity in data center ecosystems that are becoming increasingly complex.

But Ideas International vice president and lead analyst Tony Iams, who spoke at the recent Data Center Decisions conference, warned attendees that virtualization, the data center "it" technology of the moment, is still at an early stage of its lifecycle, and users and managers oversold on the evolving technology could find themselves let down by unrealistic expectations.

And if it happens too often, virtualization could find itself with a bad reputation.

Anything that's regarded as a panacea in technology leads to disappointment.
Gary Lyons
CEOBetterway.net LLC

Iams' words resonated with Gary Lyons, CEO of Adams, Mass.-basedBetterway.net LLC, a collocation data center that provides IT sourcing. Betterway.net does not currently use virtualization technology, but Lyons said it is something he is going to consider investing in for customers keen on virtualization.

However, Lyons warns that anyone looking at it as the end-all be-all is bound to be let down.

"Anything that's regarded as a panacea in technology leads to disappointment. … I think its another tool worthy of consideration," Lyons said. "Some people may have expectations that won't be met, and they'll be disappointed."

Tony Sletten, data center manager at American Standard, is one user with mixed feelings about virtualization. Sletten gives the technology high marks for helping run a virtual network -- monitoring activity from one data center to the next -- but worries about adding it on to an ecosystem overrun with blade servers because of the ever-temperamental issue of cooling and power consumption.

Sletten said he thinks his data center could probably work through such issues, however, and he also believes that even if other professionals in his field feel let down by their initial experience with virtualization, it won't necessarily leave a bad taste in their mouths.

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Virtualization has promise, but not panacea

"[Disappointed data center managers] eventually will come back, and people will say, 'OK, this is what it does, and I can live with that," Sletten said.

Virtualization's recent spike in momentum is due in large part to data centers focused on improving their testing and development capabilities. But Iams said overall need for consolidation, especially in server farms stuck with rows of boxes running well below capacity, as well as legacy applications support for data centers dependent on older software and platforms, has made virtualization technology a viable, cost-effective solution for IT managers looking to get the most bang for their increasingly tight buck.

When it comes to virtualization, perception and reality and still trying to find common ground. But for Iams, the tangible benefits signals that virtualization is here to stay.

"We've learned in the past year that virtualization is more than just a buzzword … it's a very far-reaching technology, and we think it is very exciting," Iams said. "From a long-term strategic standpoint, it's just a better way to run your operation."

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