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Virtualization technology has gone “prime time” and is being deployed in application server and Web server environments in addition to test and development scenarios, said a research report by Enterprise Management Associates released August 31.

More than two-thirds of the 126-page report, which was written by EMA senior analyst Andi Mann and titled “Virtualization: Exposing the Intangible Enterprise,” profiles the virtualization solution vendors and their products.

An overview of the report can be downloaded in PDF form here.

The research found that while 74 percent of the respondents were deploying virtualization in test and development environments, some 64 percent were also using it in their application server environments and 47 percent on the Web server front.

“Almost 75 percent of surveyed enterprises have already deployed virtualization in one form or another, and the virtualization market is increasing by approximately 26 percent on average. Less than 4 percent of surveyed enterprises have no virtualization, and do not plan to implement it,” Mann says in the report.

EMA, a research and advisory firm in Boulder, Colo., said virtualization involves making a single physical resource—such as a server, an operating system, an application, or storage device—appear to function as many logical resources.

It can also include making multiple physical resources, such as storage devices or servers, appear as a single logical resource.

While server virtualization has the strongest current penetration of the virtualization technologies and is expected to continue to dominate overall, storage and file system virtualization is likely to experience the highest growth rate, Mann notes in the report.

Desktop virtualization lies at the other end of the spectrum with the lowest penetration, deployed by just 5 percent of the survey respondents.

Click here to read more about how chip makers are paving the way for desktop virtualization.

“However, newer solutions, such as operating system and application virtualization, are becoming very functional, and show very good promise for enterprises that are looking to reduce costs and improve service,” Mann says.

For the survey, EMA analysts interviewed enterprises in the United States and Asia-Pacific in the government, health care, service providers, mining and marketing sectors, that have already deployed virtualization or are actively involved in virtualization plans.

The research also included a Web-based survey, soliciting responses from a known set of enterprises that have engaged with virtualization vendors, as well as a large random sample of EMA’s own enterprise contacts.

That survey netted 150 responses, the majority being IT personnel, with some 10 percent of responses coming from business users. Many larger enterprises responded, with over 25 percent of them having more than 10,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenues.

The average IT deployment was over 9,000 desktops, and over 1,200 servers.

The report found that while some 96 percent of the enterprises surveyed are focusing their virtualization initiatives on Microsoft Windows, some 46 percent are doing so on the Linux platform, with 31 percent on the storage front and 23 percent on Unix.

Linux virtualization cries out for management tools. Click here to read more.

Business continuity and disaster recovery are the most significant drivers for virtualization, and were rated as critical by 72 percent of enterprises, with just 4 percent saying this was unimportant.

Other critical drivers included flexibility and agility, according to 69 percent of respondents, server consolidation (so said 65 percent), and reduced downtime (65 percent), the report said.

Reduced administration costs, security service level management, legacy platform support and reduced hardware costs were less critical business drivers, with reduced software costs and the rationalizing of floor space the least important drivers.

Next Page: Ready and willing to virtualize.

The report also found that no enterprises believe any major management discipline becomes more difficult with virtualization, with most management disciplines perceived to be easier with virtualization, especially disaster recovery planning, availability management, IT cost management, software provisioning and change management.

“Nevertheless, there are significant challenges to be overcome when deploying and managing virtual environments. Amongst the most significant are training and staff development. Even with virtualization in place, most organizations are finding this to be an issue, so enterprises looking to deploy virtualization must take this into account,” Mann says in the report.

Less than half of the enterprises with virtualization already in place, and only a quarter of those planning to adopt it, believe they have sufficient skills to manage the environment, the report found.

Policy-based resource management and capacity planning also bring new challenges in the virtual world, requiring new technologies and processes, Mann said.

Better software management is virtualization’s next frontier. Click here to read more.

“Several vendors are stepping up to this challenge, but there is still plenty of room for this market to develop, and there is especially a need to integrate these capabilities into standard enterprise management solutions,” Mann said.

The management of virtual environments is, by all accounts, a lot easier than might otherwise be expected, he said in the report, noting that “in ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) disciplines especially, it is marginally surprising to see how most organizations believe it will be easier to manage a virtual environment than a physical one.

“This reflects one of the many benefits of virtualization. It may well be, as one respondent put it, the ‘most important development in systems management in the last 20 years,’” Mann said in the report.

Security is an area where virtualization is not all rosy. “Security, while considered a major benefit of virtualization, is also a potentially significant management problem. Attaining the appropriate skills to manage virtualization environments is a particular challenge,” Mann said.

While some security benefits are apparent, so too are some additional vulnerabilities.

“Enterprises must ensure they understand these new exposures, and implement processes and technology to close these gaps. Vendors must provide more complete capabilities to prevent these gaps from exposing their customers to significant risk,” Mann said.

Enterprises considering virtualization technologies should carefully plan their deployment, taking into account the potential costs, disruptions and skill challenges. But there appears to be no reason to wait.

“This is not surprising, because enterprises that have implemented virtualization have clearly achieved significant benefits, and are leading the way in what will turn out to be a virtual revolution,” the report concludes.

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