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Commentary

Virtualization Changes Everything

The move to a virtual environment means IT architects can spend less time managing hardware and more time managing data.
It's not often that a new technology affects every corner of enterprise IT. Virtualization, in its many forms, is one of those game-changers--just like networking, virtual memory, and multitasking operating systems were in their time. So it's no surprise that in this special issue of InformationWeek for EMC World, we're covering a lot of virtualization-related subjects.

The fundamental proposition of all things virtualization involves taking what seemed to be some inextricable relationship--like an operating system to its hardware platform--and breaking it. Anytime you change what seems to be an immutable relationship, interesting things happen. Human nature being what it is, we tend to think of the great benefits that come with such a change. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that we thought affordable, high-quality telephony required wires. The benefits of wireless communications are fairly profound and obvious; then a few years into it, after some near-death experiences with cell-phone-engrossed drivers and statistics that showed cell talkers to be as dangerous as drunken drivers, we realized that unfettered use wasn't necessarily all good.

We haven't quite reached the "run anything, anywhere, based on any need" virtualization nirvana, but we're close enough to understand both the benefits and drawbacks. While the drawbacks are real, they're all solvable. On the flip side, nonvirtualized environments present problems that increasingly are unsolvable. These include version and compatibility problems at the application layer, variable loads faced by inflexible systems, and the labor-intensive management tools that often don't scale. Throw in existing security concerns and the annual doubling of data storage, and it's clear that simply holding on to existing data center methodologies is a bad idea.

We've got less of a handle on desktop virtualization. We understand the pain points and therefore can see many of the benefits that will emerge, but we haven't fully imagined its oncoming challenges. What we know about are version, licensing, and incompatibility problems. And while we understand that mobile devices of all stripes offer huge increases in user productivity, they also are a security risk. There's also a large and growing array of mobile devices, and end users want choice. All this points to the need for both an abstraction of the users' hardware and the ability to centrally control when and how users get access to data. But as in the data center, virtualization is an enabling technology that requires a strong management layer (which doesn't yet exist) to deliver on its full promise.

What underlies both endpoint and data center virtualization is something quite important: a move away from managing devices and toward managing data. The abstraction to a virtual machine environment should let IT architects think less about hardware and more about who accesses what data and how they access it. It's a profound change that moves us from managing unimportant stuff (servers, laptops, and phones) toward managing what is important: information.

Art Wittmann,
Editor
[email protected]

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Greg Douglass, Global Lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory, Accenture
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter