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NEW YORK CITY—In the coming 18 months, virtualization, already a mainstream tool for IT administrators looking to consolidate applications within a data center, will continue to be adopted within enterprises as companies expand the technology to plan for business continuity and create high-availability servers.

In addition, virtualization will become more available in desktops and within mobile devices, such as cell phones. This flexibility will allow businesses to reduce costs and increase security at the PC level.

These were some of the main topics of discussion at the IDC Virtualization Forum here Feb. 6, which attempted to look at the future of virtualization and where the technology is going in the next 18 to 24 months.

While virtualization does have benefits, serious issues concerning security—both at the level of the hypervisor and within the network—still remain. Enterprises and their IT departments will also have to contend with how to allocate costs within a virtual environment and deal with issues concerning the licensing of proprietary products within a virtual world, such as an Oracle database or a Microsoft operating system.

Since it was first introduced, virtualization—the ability to run multiple applications and operating systems on a single server—was mainly seen as a way to consolidate workloads within a data center into fewer and fewer servers.

Up until just a few years ago, most of virtualization had been used to move critical workloads such as applications and operating systems from legacy systems onto new servers with better processing power.

Click here to read more about the growing demand for storage virtualization.

The technology has also become one of several tools used to reduce the cost of cooling and power within a data center.

In the next 18 months, virtualization will enter a “2.0” phase, said John Humphreys, IDC’s program director for enterprise virtualization. More and more, virtualization will be a sought-after tool for companies looking to plan for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Indeed, about 50 percent of virtualization will involve HADR (high-availability disaster recovery), Humphreys said.

Within the data center, virtualization will enable high availability within servers to avoid downtime and allow servers to switch workloads in case of system failure.

In terms of desktop virtualization, Humphreys said several IT departments have started to experiment with desktop virtualization, which could lead the way to more use of thin client PCs with businesses.

At the show, participants heard from two IT administrators who used virtualization with success in the data center and are now beginning to experiment with desktop virtualization.

“Right now, you see some early end users who see the benefits in terms of reduced cost, better availability and increased security,” Humphreys said.

There is also a push within the industry to use virtualization to better improve mobility, both with notebooks that use virtualization software and with other mobile devices, like smart phones.

“Right now we see mobility as a lot of untapped potential,” said Parag Patel, the senior director of storage alliances for VMware, a prominent virtualization software vendor.

VMware customers, Patel said, are looking for “infrastructurewide” virtualization tools that not only encompass servers, but PCs, storage and networking devices, and provide easy and centralized manageability.

“Customers are looking for virtualization across many platforms,” Patel said.

With as much potential as virtualization has—IDC predicts that the number of installed servers worldwide will hit 45 million by 2010, which offers a massive opportunity for consolidation—there is one issue that has not been adequately addressed: security.

Click here to read more about vendors and the need to make virtualization easier to use.

Vendors and their customers are looking for protection against vulnerabilities within the hypervisor, when workloads are moved either from physical machines to virtual ones, or from one virtual machine to another. Just before the forum started, IBM announced a new security tool called Secure Hypervisor that addresses some of those issues.

There is also a need to secure networks within enterprises that are now moving physical loads to virtual loads and back again.

Still, the potential of virtualization, at this point, may outweigh some of the risks. Humphreys said that in a standard enterprise, the administrator-to-server ratio could be 20 to one. In a virtualized environment, there is the potential for one administrator to monitor 200 servers.

“This is allowing companies to free up capital or free up the number of people and reallocate them,” Humphreys said. “This could have a huge impact on a company.”

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