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App Vendors: Virtualize or Get Out!

There are two kinds of vendors in this world: those who truly listen to their customers and give them what they want and need, and those who listen to their customers but give them only what's in the immediate best interest of the vendor. Sometimes it's a fine distinction, and sometimes it's painfully obvious which sort of vendor you're dealing with.

Here's a little test you can give your application vendors to put them in one camp or another--and I'm betting a good number of you have already tried this. Call the vendor's tech-support line with some performance or compatibility issue. If the support rep asks if you're running the application virtualized, then tells you to reinstall it on non-virtualized hardware and call back--you know which you're dealing with.

Virtualization is the most important technology to hit the data center since 32-bit computing got cheap. It promises to improve flexibility and efficiency and, though it complicates security and management, its benefits far outweigh its complications. App vendors that value their customers must support it. That means VMware now, Xen this year and Microsoft's virtual environment next year.

And tech support is just the first step. Software licensing is at least as big of an impediment to fully exploiting virtualization. There's not enough space in this column to explore the various approaches one might use, but here are some guiding principles for vendors and their customers. First, application vendors should not see supporting virtualization as a significant new source of revenue. If the scope of usage remains the same, customers should see either zero, or very modest, cost increases--think less than 5 percent.

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