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Virtualization reality check

Cisco's Unified Computing System announcement made it seem like massive virtual data centers and cloud computing are just around the corner. But reality isn't quite as blue sky.

Cisco Systems' Unified Computing System announcement last week seemed to lift the whole industry out of its recession gloom.

All of a sudden, it seemed like massive virtual data centers and cloud computing were just around the corner. Cisco even talked about the fact that its new server platform supports massive amounts of memory so that large organizations can host hundreds of virtual machines on each physical server.

No one I know is more visionary about server virtualization than Mark Bowker, my colleague and Enterprise Strategy Group's virtualization guru, so I asked him what I should make of all of this virtualization gaga. Surprisingly, Bowker said that the industry is getting way ahead of itself and thinks it is time for a virtual reality check. Here are a few data points from ESG Research to back up Bowker's thoughts:

• The average number of virtual machines per physical server is between 5 and 10. This data was gathered from a survey of over 200 enterprise organizations (i.e. organizations with 1,000 employees or more).

• On average, enterprises have about 225 physical servers running server virtualization.

• The main reason why enterprises are deploying server virtualization is to consolidate Windows server workloads.

• Based upon qualitative research, Bowker believes that users are slow-rolling server virtualization because of systems management issues, security concerns, lack of virtualization skills in the IT organization, and I/O bottlenecks.

With this data, it is safe to assume that large organizations are taking a prudent approach to server virtualization. They are using the technology to improve server utilization, rationalize the number of physical devices, and lower costs. They are not building massive virtual data centers and cloud-based compute infrastructure--at least not yet.

In a few years, we will likely see hardware enclosures supporting virtual compute, storage, and networking "bricks." Plug in any brick and it can be utilized by any other brick in dynamic fashion. That said, we are miles away from this vision. Bowker reminds us all that we should judge virtualization technology based upon current deployment activities and near-term requirements, rather than on long-term blue-sky concepts.