Virtualization is proving to be a disruptive trend for server and storage vendors, according to Gartner analysts, setting the stage for a pitched battle to control key points in rapidly changing corporate data centers.
"Virtualization should be seen as not just a tool for (server) consolidation, but as a modernization catalyst," said Thomas Bittman, a Gartner VP and Chief of Research for its Infrastructure and operations area. "It's changing how we deal with the business."
Bittman was the first keynote speaker at the 27th Annual Gartner Data Center Conferense, which opened to a packed house at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Using virtualization to create a "real-time infrastructure" was a key theme of Bittman's presentation. That includes new virtualization technologies that are relegating hardware to a different role in the data center.
Bittman foresees the emergence of a "meta operating system" - a virtualization layer between applications and distributed computing resources that will play a central role in the next-generation data center. VMware's Virtual Data Center Operating System is just one example of this trend, which will transform the data center, shifting the focus from managing hardware assets (servers) to deploying pools of virtual assets.
"We've been seeing a migration from the idea of a box to a chassis to a data center in a rack or container," said Bittman. "Servers are fundamentally becoming a part of the fabric, The server of the past is becoming like a brick, a commodity." And that has implications for server vendors, he said.
"As we move towards virtualization, (server and storage) vendors are becoming concerned," said Bittman. "Their world is getting turned completely upside down. They're now looking at being the lead vendor at the top of a layer, or they'll get commoditized.
"None of these vendors want to be commoditized. Every one of these vendors is trying to build a pyramid with them at the top. There's going to be conflict between these competing visions, and the battle is going to take place in your data centers."
How should data center managers respond? "Don't take any of these vendors' visions as gospel," said Bittman. "This is going to end up being a much more complex environment. In the meantime, there's going to be a mess about who orchestrates what."
The shifts driven by a virtualized data center will emerge slowly. Gartner estimates that 12 percent of all x86 server workloads are currently running in virtual machines, and expects that number to rise to 50 percent by 2012. For now, virtualization is being used primarily to consoldiate servers and save on space and energy usage.