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Virtualization Environments Still Pose a Challenge in the Data Center

Organizations may have embraced and launched virtualization environments, but they're still working out some issues: Just 3% have iron-clad standardized platform policies. Learn what else the 2012 State of the Data Center survey uncovered.

Virtualization and standardization have allowed organizations to bring data center maintenance costs down to levels unheard of several years ago, according to the newly released InformationWeek Report 2012 "2012 State of the Data Center." However, the unintended consequences of virtualization and the inability of many to bring virtualized environments to their next logical step still stare down data center managers as challenges in the next year.

The survey, which looked at the spending habits, technological philosophies and deployment patterns of more than 250 enterprises, found that respondents face a delicate balancing act between standards and customization, efficiency and flexibility, and operational control and outsourced convenience.

This balancing act is best personified by the pragmatic approach most organizations are taking to data center standards. The survey found that just 3% of organizations hold an iron-clad standardized platform policy. More frequent were policies that allowed some sort of deviation to fit business needs. Just less than 40% of organizations say they have standardized platforms, with limited exceptions through a formal process; close to a fifth of organizations say they're standardized on one or two major software vendors and work with application owners to find a product that meets their needs.

"We found that there is standardization, but it's kind of a mushy, flexible, cooperative sort of standardization," said Kurt Marko, author of the report and an IT industry veteran. "It's not a rigid, 'We're IT, this is what you get, it better run on this hardware and software' model.' It's more of a 'Well, these are one or two of our requirements, but we'll work with you'-type of standard. On the flip side, IT isn't allowing whatever people roll up to the loading dock to run, either."

According to the report, these standards are an important factor in driving down the percentage of dollars spent on maintenance as compared with innovation--a vital litmus test for the efficiency of data center operations. This year, that number declined another percentage point, to 67%. Also playing a big part in this number is the ubiquity of virtualization.

"No technology in recent years has enabled IT to do more in a fixed hardware and data center footprint than server virtualization," the report said.

Virtualization Goals for Data Centers

Approximately a third of organizations report that their data center strategy is to virtualize x86 servers for most of their applications, with stand-alone servers or mainframes running business-critical databases and back-end applications.

Meanwhile, 72% of organizations report that their data centers are at least 25% virtualized. Half of organizations say they've virtualized 50% of their servers. And approximately 26% of organizations say they've virtualized at least 75% of their data center infrastructure.

In spite of virtualization becoming de riguer within the data center, organizations aren't quite there with bringing their efficiency to the next level with private cloud deployments. Just 30% of organizations say private cloud is a priority and are well on the way toward deploying or have already deployed private clouds.

"Virtualization is now kind of a given, so they've done the easy stuff and basically moved from a separate piece of hardware to run each different application to a separate virtual machine to run each one. But it is still kind of a one-to-one mapping," Marko said. "This notion of having a flexible, dynamic and even self-provisioning infrastructure is pie in the sky for a lot of people. And forget about hybrid cloud."

As organizations try to figure out how to get the most out of their virtualized infrastructure, they also must learn to deal with the unintended consequences of virtualization. The increased density in the data center has improved many aspects of operational efficiency, but power and cooling concerns are starting to snowball, Marko said.

"I think people are maybe deluding themselves a little bit that they can bring up these new, highly consolidated , dense systems and still operate them in your same old data center," Marko said, explaining that the power and cooling demands of consolidated server racks are far outstripping what existing data centers can accommodate, even with renovations.

The survey found that even with rapid consolidation, just 8% of respondents expect to build new facilities.

"That was a little bit of a surprise to see that people are saying, 'Yeah, we're moving to more consolidation,'" he said. "Yet, I think when they start doing the numbers, just on the facilities side, they may be in for a surprise."

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