Everyone knows that server virtualization shaves hardware clutter in the datacenter, boosts workloads, brings disaster recovery flexibility, slashes costs and basically saves the planet from nasty carbon emissions. But here's the dirty little secret: Many pitfalls await server virtualization adopters, and a stumble can ruin all your virtual dreams.
The sheer number of potential missteps has Doug Dineley, executive editor of the InfoWorld Test Center, shaking his head. "Virtualization offers irresistible benefits, and also the opportunity to drown."
[ Get a hands-on look at many aspects of the technology and project implementation in the Test Center's special report on server virtualization. ]
It can be shocking to suddenly realize that your IT staff is woefully unprepared for virtualization and needs training. Or maybe you'll stumble out of the gate, not knowing that it takes at least a month to get a grip on your server environment. You might be pressed to free up money to cover hidden costs or purchase new equipment -- yes, new servers will likely be needed for what's supposed to be a server consolidation project. Even if you navigate these and other pitfalls, you'll likely be blindsided by virtualization vendors' over-the-top performance claims.
What's behind the virtualization buzz
Server virtualization breaks up the marriage of hardware and software (in this case, between the physical system and operating system software), and thus allows a single physical server to host many virtual servers running different operating systems. The benefits of this basic capability border on computing nirvana, not the least of which is server consolidation. For instance, IBM started moving the workload of its 3,900 servers to 30 virtualized System z9 mainframes running Linux. Big Blue expects to cut energy consumption by 80 percent, or more than $2 million in energy costs. Meanwhile, NetApp consolidated 343 servers to 177 via virtualization and replaced 50 storage systems with 10 new ones.
Indeed, the front lines are awash with server virtualization success stories -- and the drumbeat grows louder every day. EMC's virtualization high-flyer unit, VMware, raised nearly $1 billion in its public offering last summer, based on a highly regarded product (see the Test Center review of VMware Infrastructure 3.0). Citrix Systems, which acquired server virtualization vendor XenSource in December, took the wrappings off of XenServer 4.1 earlier this month. Last week, market researcher Gartner called virtualization "the most important trend for servers through 2012."