Virtualization And Beyond: The 2014 Virtualization 50

Building virtualized environments is the first step in taking customers to public, private or hybrid clouds, or helping them build BYOD or other mobility platforms. Having the right virtualization tools is the first step in building those virtualized environments.

Ever since VMware launched the modern virtualization revolution with its first technology to carve commodity x86 servers into multiple virtual servers, the IT industry has quickly moved to virtualize as many parts of the data center as possible. And with it has come the need for solution providers to change their approach to building customers' IT infrastructures.

Virtualization, whether in terms of servers, storage, networking and applications, is now table stakes for the channel, said Jed Ayres, CMO at MCPc, a Cleveland-based solution provider.

[Related: CRN's Virtualization 50 ]

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"Understanding virtualization is the key to building the future," Ayres said.

Ayres told CRN he first saw that future back in 2005 when he worked at what was then the largest channel partner of Citrix to help customers virtualize their desktops and their applications and look at the beginning of business mobility.

"That was such a gift to me," he said. "It came at the same time the iPhone and iPad came about. Mixing the technologies was huge in the development of the mobility space."

Virtualization has since changed everything about how IT infrastructures are built, Ayres said. "The world is heading to software-defined everything," he said. "Software-defined storage, software-defined networking, software-defined data centers are giving customers more agile, more efficient infrastructures than we ever thought was possible."

As virtualization has matured, the solutions have become increasingly complex to include the cloud and mobility, said Dhruv Gulati, executive vice president of Lilien Systems, a Larkspur, Calif.-based solution provider. That has been a boon to the channel, which is playing a key role in helping customers see the value of the technology and finding the right solutions, Gulati said.

"A lot of what's happening with virtualization is noise to customers," he said. "We as solution providers have to know what to support, and why to support it, in order to meet customer needs."

The widespread adoption of virtualization technology also has enabled solution providers to grow their professional services business, said Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Consiliant Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider.

"Our customers are looking for help in their virtualization move, whether it's server, storage or converged infrastructure," Kadlec said. "They're busy keeping operations running, and look to us to provide the horsepower to let them implement their strategies."

That opportunity to provide the services to support customers' virtualization requirements will only grow in the future, especially as more and more of the data center gets virtualized, Kadlec said.

"Network virtualization provides flexibility for customers' business, as well as the ability to implement networks in a much more timely fashion than buying and deploying new hardware," he said.

Ayres said as data centers become more and more software-defined because of virtualization, solution providers will require a wide range of new skill sets that will allow them to write code to new virtualization platforms and APIs.

Customers also are using virtualization technology to build private and secure platforms as part of their cloud infrastructures, providing channel partners future opportunities to help customers make the right choice from a variety of solutions, he said.

"The sky's the limit," he said. "We're almost in version 2.0 of virtualization technology. This will continue to be a major fuel source to the channel. It's complex and disruptive."

CRN's Virtualization 50 is a list of 50 virtualization vendors solution providers should know. Note it is not the "Virtualization Top 50," or the "Virtualization Biggest 50," or the "Virtualization Most Important 50." Instead, the list brings together a wide range of large and small vendors from every part of the virtualization industry, including providers of technology to help customers implement virtual server, storage, desktop, networking and application infrastructures, manage those infrastructures, and make those infrastructures a platform on which cloud and mobility can be built.