Virtualization Growth Continues, Paving Way For Private Clouds

Virtualization has been one of the hottest and fast-growing technology trends in the IT industry, but experts say we're only scratching the surface today and that there's much more growth ahead.

While many businesses have made significant investments in virtualization solutions, there are still plenty of opportunities to expand the use of virtualization technology in both enterprise and small and medium-sized businesses. For example, IT analyst firm Focus reported that there is still 50 percent to 70 percent growth remaining for virtualization within businesses it surveyed.

"Cloud and virtualization are top IT priorities," said Barb Goldworm, founder and president of Focus, during a COMDEXvirtual session. "Although virtualization is everywhere, there is still significant growth remaining."

Goldworm said organizations typically start with server consolidation and then virtualize a portion of their hardware environment. From there, they expand their server and storage virtualization to anywhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of their infrastructure, followed by virtualizing applications and desktops. That path, she said, is leading more and more to investing in private clouds.

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"The move to private clouds is coming from the CIOs at the top down," she said. "The success of virtualization to date has been largely about the economics of consolidation. What we're seeing now with the push toward private cloud is that the drivers are more focused on agility."

Joe Shields, president of IP Pathways in Urbandale, Iowa, said he's seen wildly different levels of virtualization experience with his customer base. For example, IP Pathways has experienced much success in the healthcare market, particularly with smaller hospitals that are just starting out with virtualization.

"For a lot of hospitals in the rural Midwest, we're doing their first real virtualization project," he said. "But with most other customers, the businesses have at least dabbled with some server virtualization in their data centers."

For customers that have some part of their infrastructure virtualized, Shields said, the next step is moving tier-one applications into a virtualized environment. According to Symantec's 2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud survey, 59 percent of businesses surveyed planned to virtualize database applications in the next 12 months, while 47 percent planned to virtualize calendar and e-mail applications.

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Virtualization's influence is far-reaching, too. According to a Focus survey at Interop 2011, businesses ranked security as the No. 1 priority among IT implementations in 2012, ahead of cloud services/applications and server virtualization, respectively. But Goldworm said much of that security implementation is in fact being driven by the transition to virtualized environments and cloud services.

Solution provider Business Communications Inc. (BCI) in Ridgeland, Miss., used cloud and virtualization demand to boost its security business. The solution provider had seen a lot of success with virtualization and as a result BCI built its own data center for private cloud hosting this year. Chad Curtis, vice president of engineering at BCI, said his company was able to cross-sell security solutions to customers before allowing them entry into the BCI cloud.

As virtualization continues to expand, the avenues of growth will vary depending on the vertical industry. For healthcare clients, Shields said, demand for virtualization is being driven by two forces. First is the rise of electronic medical records, or EMR, which has caused healthcare businesses to add more infrastructure. Second is desktop virtualization, which gives hospital workers the flexibility to move from room to room and quickly access much-needed data.

"Desktop virtualization is really becoming a more mature technology today," Shields said. "I have no less than 10 conversations a week about it."

Goldworm agreed, stating that desktop virtualization is poised to "really take off." And the explosion of mobile devices and the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend have raised the stakes as users now demand more flexibility, mobility and access. Application and desktop virtualization are going to be keys to long-term success as the consumerization of IT continues, she said.

"If we don't deliver on these expectations, users are going to go around IT and they are going to do it themselves," Goldworm said.