by Lisa Vaas

Which Virtualization Technologies Are Ripe: Forrester’s Picks

Jun 05, 20084 mins

A new report from Forrester Research ranks 17 virtualization technologies on whether they're ready for prime time or too green for picking.

Virtualization has gotten into many nooks and crannies of IT infrastructure, but some of the available vendor technology is half-baked, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

According to Forrester, as of Q2 2008, server and client virtualization is mature enough to pay off in the short term, but storage virtualization—particularly application storage—is “not very advanced” and doesn’t yet offer much payback.

Application storage virtualization, which is offered by EMC, IBM, HP and Oracle, is still taking its first steps, available only in alpha versions. Forrester Analyst Galen Schreck says in the report that at this early point, its value is questionable, given that the technology only offers “basic tiering and thin provisioning” that customers can already get from more mature forms of storage virtualization.

Oracle Database is one basic example of early application storage virtualization. It’s capable of managing and virtualizing raw disk using the application’s own file system. Forrester believes that other vendors are also working on such capabilities, which will allow applications to make sophisticated policy decisions about where their content is stored.

Give it three to five years, Forrester suggests, during which time application storage virtualization will work itself into major application platforms that have long refresh cycles. When it’s good and ripe, though, the technology is poised for “significant success,” the report concludes.

Application storage virtualization was one of 17 virtualization technologies Forrester looked at for the report, and it was the only one that the analyst firm slotted into its “Creation Phase.”

Some other virtualization technologies that Forrester thinks aren’t yet ready for prime time, but which Forrester categorizes as having clawed their way up to becoming “Survival Phase” technologies:

* Network performance. “Services for enhancing network performance have not been that widely deployed, limiting their overall business value. Today, they are typically found in busy Web application environments but rarely in the rest of the network infrastructure,” Schreck says in the report. Within three to five years, this technology will take off, he said, since it will produce “strong and measurable ROI” by allowing applications to work better with less infrastructure.

* Network security. The main benefit of virtualized network security is in avoiding the need to purchase a new security appliance for each new application, but most organizations haven’t implemented this type of pervasive security, Forrester says. With big security and networking vendors ready to deliver within the year, mainstream adoption is near, but Forrester thinks the promise of instantly delivered pervasive security services is only going to have moderate success. “Most firms have not migrated from a heavily protected perimeter to a more pervasive security,” Schreck writes.

* Out-of-band storage virtualization. Forrester is giving this one three to five years, after which the technology should see significant success because of its promise to deliver intelligent applications such as automated data movement based on business priority. In the short term, although it’s supported by major SAN (Storage Area Network) vendors, deployment calls for a significant investment and changes to critical infrastructure.

* VM appliances. The basic standards are there for virtual disk formats, but software vendors have been sluggish to move to this type of distribution. Virtual appliances tend to lack the automatic updates and appliance-like management that make them inexpensive over the long run. Give this one three to five years, though, after which Forrester sees virtual appliances will “radically” simplify vendors’ software tsting, since they won’t have to account for as many deployment scenarios. That will bring us more stable software that’s easier to deploy and manage, on top of faster updates, Forrester says.

* VM automation. Most mainstream customers aren’t yet ready to hand over control to policy-based automation tools, Forrester says. Within three to five years, IT shops may be ready for this level of automation, after they’ve finished implementing better IT processes such as change management.

Virtualizing this piece of the puzzle is destined for success, however, given that VM automation tools will allow commodity servers to deliver big-ticket capabilities such as automated disaster recovery and workload prioritization, Forrester says.

And then there are the virtualization technologies that Forrester thinks have hit the “Growth Phase;” i.e., those that have been around long enough that their ecosystems are diverse and their production stories are ample enough for customers to make a decision. These include clustered storage virtualization, VM management, network hardware virtualization, hosted desktop virtualization, local application virtualization, local desktop virtualization and VM hypervisors.

Finally, Forrester pegs four virtualization technologies as being at the “Equilibrium Phase.” That means their benefits and limitations are well-documented. At the end of such a phase, the market is “highly consolidated,” the customer uptake flattens, and revenues start to slip. Forrester classifies network bandwidth virtualization, hosted application virtualization, in-band storage virtualization and host-based storage virtualization as being in the Equilibrium Phase.