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Living in a VM world

Ten years into the x86 virtualization revolution, VMs have become "just how enterprises deploy IT"--and that's a very good thing.

The big industry event about virtualization is VMworld, usually held in late Summer / early Fall. You don't have to wait for VMware's conference, however, to find yourself in VM World. We now live in it, every day.

Abstract depiction of array of virtual machines
Licensed from VectorStock

It's really quite amazing how quickly virtualization has swept through, and become ensconced in, IT. Data centers have--for decades--been famously conservative when it comes to introducing changes that might threaten to disrupt production applications. For years, whenever we'd ask operationally focused IT managers about introducing new control software--for workload management, service provisioning, automated orchestration, and so on--we always heard a deeply skeptical, go-slow attitude. That skepticism was mirrored by how gradually--some would argue, glacially--the software was adopted.

Until virtualization. VMware shipped its first server products in 2001. By 2003, its products were maturing and starting to get noticed. The idea of operating server workloads atop virtualized x86 was starting to spread. By 2005, there was widening excitement, along with strong uptake in secondary roles such as development and testing ("devtest"). By 2008, it was a wildfire, burning hot and spreading fast. And today--today virtualization is maturing into just how you do enterprise IT.

Virtualization of volume servers "crossed the chasm" with extraordinary rapidity. No, that's not quite right--with astounding, amazing, incredible rapidity. Never before have data centers and IT operations changed so quickly, so thoroughly. Virtualization entered at the same speed PCs and the Internet did--from zero penetration and little interest on the part of IT departments to near ubiquity--in a decade. And it did so in the conservative data center domain.

When you're in the middle of long-term change, there's never an incontrovertible moment to declare "we've arrived!" We're still in the process of becoming, right? We're still moving toward full virtualization; many organizations will be working on it for at least another five years. On the other hand, many organizations have already virtualized broad swaths of their IT estate. It's easy to find shops with thousands of virtual machines, some near their goal--100 percent virtualized. And even among those that have years to go, almost all have at least started the transition.

I think it's fair to say that, whereas five years ago we were living in a world dominated by physical servers, today we're living in a VM world. Seemingly everyone has thousands. Buying a server without virtualization is already like buying a mobile phone without text service, or a car without airbags. It's now impossible to buy a new server that isn't at least highly capable of virtualization; most are now thoroughly optimized for it.

Every proponent would like to claim that their technology or approach "changes everything." That is always hyperbole. But virtualization comes close. It's not just the new platform for deploying apps and managing services. It's also dramatically raised the level of efficiency, flexibility, maintainability, and availability we've come to expect and demand for every application. That IT professionals were--given the right lever--able to effect such thrilling improvements in such a short time emboldens us to seek out and achieve great things elsewhere.

I'm really happy we now live in VM world. It's nice here.