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State Of Data Centers: Hot, Crowded, Virtual

With just 8% of respondents to our 2012 survey expecting to build new facilities and constrained budgets the No. 1 impactful trend, it's clear enterprise IT's transformation to service provider is in full swing.

Small Victories

So why all the interest in standardization? A primary goal is to eliminate repetitive work and overhead so we can free up resources for innovation, and in that sense, respondents are succeeding. While 67% of the IT budget is still spent on maintenance and operations vs. 33% on innovation--little changed from last year--it's still a victory for efficiency: 67/33 is the new 80/20.

We attribute this triumph to server virtualization, as 50% of respondents report that half or more of their production servers will be virtualized by the end of 2012; for an aggressive 9%, it's more than 90%. This is actually a lower figure than reported in our Virtualization Management Survey last summer, which found 63% of respondents expected to have half or more of their production servers virtualized by the end of 2011, a whopping 11-point increase from the prior year.

One engineer with an energy services company that's approaching 70% virtualization has been at it since 2004. More than 90% of its mission-critical Tier 1 applications rely on VMware virtualization and mirrored SAN technologies between two data centers, with service-level agreements of less than one hour in most cases. "We have had a 'virtualize first' policy over the last four years," he says.

But maybe "virtualization" is too imprecise a term, since our survey shows that in the enterprise, virtualization means VMware. Fully 53% of our respondents name VMware's management platforms, vCenter and vCloud Director, as their standard or preferred software stacks, leaving Microsoft's System Center in the dust with only 10%. Every other platform, whether from established virtualization companies like Citrix or new private cloud upstarts like the OpenStack spin-offs, stayed stuck in single digits.

There's still a need to up our game, however. While the extent of server virtualization is rising, the level of sophistication remains rather low. Specifically, virtual machines are often a one-for-one replacement for dedicated, standalone servers, rather than part of a private cloud self-service utility. Although two-thirds of respondents have private cloud plans, only 30% have made substantive progress building them. Just 8% are avoiding private clouds, with 25% in that wishy-washy "investigating" phase.

In sum, despite the vendor hype and IT lip service paid to private clouds, such tepid adoption suggests enterprise buyers are unsure what a private cloud really buys them.

We're not worried about private and hybrid cloud adoption--this is one technology where the more IT teams learn, the more they see the benefits. For example, 40% cite flexibility to meet new business needs as a top infrastructure requirement, a goal that should ultimately translate into greater interest in private cloud software stacks.

Yet the key is building a hybrid architecture with the right fuel mix of public and private cloud resources. Few companies are ready to ship everything off-site--only 4% say they run applications on an infrastructure-as-a-service platform whenever possible--but the public cloud has gained respectability in most IT shops. Fifteen percent put it among the top three factors that will most change data centers in the next year.

chart: What's your data center strategy?

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