I was a bit surprised to learn that another industry analyst firm feels that virtualization is too costly (more info here).
For years, server virtualization has been solving real problems in the data center, namely with high availability, disaster recovery automation, and with consolidation. Data centers in California are receiving financial incentives from PG&E to virtualize, with the incentives up to several hundred dollars per server often offsetting any new hardware investments.
Applications that previously did not support clustering can now achieve high availability running inside a VM within VMware's virtual infrastructure. Disaster recovery restores to servers with new hardware are now a piece of cake thanks to server virtualization. Without VMs, recovering a Windows OS on new hardware could take hours. To me, the question is not "What's the cost of virtualization?" but instead "What's the cost of downtime?" For most organizations, downtime is much more costly than virtualization licensing.
There's plenty of other areas where virtualization saves money as well:
- Power and cooling
- Application and OS testing and associated man hours
- Reduced antivirus and backup licensing costs
- Reduced OS licensing costs
Fewer physical servers in the data center leads to reduced power and cooling costs, not to mention savings on server hardware and related maintenance over time. Application, backup, and DR testing is now completed in a fraction of the time it takes with purely physical servers. I've known several organizations who were never able to complete a successful DR test on physical servers. With virtualization, DR processes can be validated in hours.
Many backup and antivirus software vendors are offering discounted licensing for virtualization. CA is the most aggressive, with ARCserve licensing now able to be applied to unlimited VMs on the same physical host. In response, CommVault and Symantec now offer software bundle discounts for virtualization. Novell licenses SUSE Linux Enterprise Server per physical host. So a single SLES license subscription can be applied to unlimited VMs on the same physical host. Most other ISVs who do not have specific virtualization licensing policies base their licenses on the virtualized hardware (such as virtual CPUs) inside a virtual machine.
Do some ISVs balk at supporting their software inside a VM? Sure. But migration tools such as PlateSpin PowerConvert that allow you to clone live VMs to physical servers make it easy to duplicate a problem on a VM on an equivalent physical server. From my experience, application problems rarely result from virtualization. The lone exception that I see is with enterprise applications that see hundreds to thousands of concurrent connections. Memory virtualization latency is often to blame there, and is why high performance applications are still running on clusters or are consolidated to OS virtualization platforms such as SWsoft's Virtuozzo. Improved hardware-assisted virtualization from Intel and AMD (shipping later this year) will remove the memory virtualization overhead that exists today, and in turn open additional doors for running high performance applications inside VMs.
Dynamic failover support, to me, is a deal breaker for virtualization in the data center. Products that do not have sound dynamic failover are not even a consideration. So are there few data center ready products to choose from in my opinion? You bet. VMware is data center proven. Virtual Iron and XenSource are well on their way. Microsoft, Novell, and Red Hat are closing in on the pack as well.
Virtualization provides too many benefits to stand by and watch others improve their availability and IT processes, while saving on power and server hardware costs as a result of virtualization implementations. What's virtualization worth? Ask one of your Windows server admins who is struggling to return a critical server to operation on new hardware. Ask a developer who wants to test a piece of his code but is weighing whether the time to stage a system is worth it. Ask a server team in a data center where there is no more physical room or power to add servers. You may not get the Dr. Evil answer of "1 Billion Dollars," but I'd bet the administrators operating in the IT trenches see the cost of virtualization as easily justifiable.
The question should not be what is the cost of virtualization, but rather what is the cost of not incorporating virtualization within your infrastructure.
posted by: Chris Wolf