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Seven and a half years after virtualization went “mainstream” with EMC’s purchase of VMware, you would think it would be pretty mature  – at least on the server side, where it hit first before moving on to storage and networks.

But many customers (especially smaller ones) are still having trouble getting the cost and scalability benefits they hoped to get from server virtualization. And performance tuning, security, and assuring cost savings are continuing concerns for all customers as they move beyond servers to virtualizing storage as well as applications such as databases, email and ERP in the next year.

Those are among the main findings of the 2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud Survey done by Symantec, which of course has a dog in this fight as a provider of virtualization, storage and security management tools. Nearly 60% of the 3,700 tactical, strategic and C-level respondents it surveyed worldwide are still using outside providers “quite a bit” or “completely” for help with server virtualization. When it comes to newer areas such as hybrid public/private clouds or private storage as a service, the figures rises closer to 70%.

Service providers are in demand because virtualization often isn’t delivering the benefits customers expected. Customers with less mature server virtualization skills still need third-party help with sever virtualization, while those with higher levels of skills need help providing functions such as disaster recovery and high availability, said John Magee, vice president of visualization and cloud solutions for the storage and security software vendor.

Respondents were most pleased with server virtualization, pegging the gap between expectations and reality at only four percent, and the greatest shortfalls in delivering reduced capital and operational costs, and greater scalability.

They cited a 33% gap between expectation and reality for storage virtualization, with the biggest disappointments in the scalability of virtualized storage, its agility and the operational expense savings.

Private/hybrid cloud computing, in which companies seamlessly move applications and data between their own virtual environments and those of outside providers such as Amazon, was another problem area. Respondents saw an average 32% gap between expectations and reality, with the time to provision new resources, scalability and security the main shortfalls. Nearly three-quarters of organizations that had hybrid/private clouds cited performance as a significant or extreme challenge.

Storage as a service (providing provide virtualized storage to users and applications on demand) was the most severe underperformer, with a 37% gap between expectation and reality. The biggest shortfalls were its failure to reduce complexity (40%), its efficiency (37%) and its scalability (34%.)

Slightly more than half of respondents said storage costs had “somewhat or significantly increased with server virtualization.” One reason, said Magee, is the complexity of virtual environments, and the fact that unused space can be “orphaned” as the virtual server to which it was originally assigned is moved or decommissioned. Some customers also quickly buy a large amount of expensive SAN storage to support a virtual environment, he said, while they could save money with a “tiered” environment in which less critical information is stored on less expensive storage.

Just over six out of ten listed security as a “significant/extreme,” a concern Magee said is increasing as organizations virtualize more mission-critical applications. As they do so, he is seeing more concern around compliance and configuration tracking, and a focus on securing not just physical servers but the  virtual machines running on them.

Despite the disappointments, interest in virtualization remains strong, with about 80% of all respondents at least discussing cloud adoption. Among organizations planning to virtualize servers for business-critical applications in the next 12 months, focus areas included database applications (59%), email (47%) and ERP applications (41%.)

So virtualization isn’t a bust, and customers still trust its potential. But, like a lot of ballyhooed new technologies, getting to paradise isn’t as easy as promised.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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