The risk of using free virtualization products

Since the launch of VMware Player, the first free desktop virtualization solution, and Microsoft Virtual Server, the first free server virtualization solution, the IT world has never been the same.
A revolution in the way of thinking about computing resources started, and it will greatly accelerate now that also VMware Server 1.0 and Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 have been releases as free products.

At this moment the IT world is shaking up by two concurrent phenomenons at the same time: on a side the server virtualization technology itself and on the other side the fact virtualization didn’t ever have the chance to become mainstream and it’s already completely free.

While free virtualization is a huge benefit for the whole industry, obtaining it so fast could bring in a lot of issues.

The problem
Problems free virtualization could raise in the next years mainly depend on three factors: technology complexity, critical role in business, easiness in adoption.

A virtualized datacenter involves new challenges, and IT staff has to handle technical incompatibilities, performances penalties, lacks of products support, interoperability, accountability, and many others.
Professionals and companies had no enough time to become really expert in handling all of this in the new scenarios. There are so many aspects still to be fully understood and so much experience to collect before reaching the level of confidence we have today with physical server.

While desktop virtualization has a large diffusion but a limited impact on the way business services are offered, server virtualization completely changes the approach to datacenter, from hardware purchasing to resources management.
While desktop virtualization is a technology companies can decide to forgo at any moment if it doesn’t meet certain expectations, server virtualization is a no way back adoption most of times.

The fact today’s free solutions yesterday were commercial products, advertised as enterprise grade solutions, imply companies from small business to enterprise, will embrace them, both because are at no cost and because are trusted as reliable. And when a much desirable technology suddenly becomes free, a mass of professionals approach it, with or without required knowledge.

Where’s the risk? The biggest one is for small and medium companies which surely see in free server virtualization the biggest opportunity to lower costs.
In these realities time and budget allocated for IT staff training or outsourcing consulting and for testing is small or non-existent and often happens technologies are thrown in production without adequate skills and experience.

Here comes the technology complexity and multiple factors which could compromise a virtualization project: a poor capacity planning, superficiality in host and guest OSes configuration, missing policies for virtual machines provisioning, lack of knowledge for needed third party tools, poor investigation in supported configurations. All elements with lead to disappointing performances, virtual machines sprawl and increased efforts in management.

Such bad results will not only translates in many money required to correct deficiencies or revert back to physical server, but will also become the reason why companies will stay away from virtualization as much as possible, believing the technology is much less useful and reliable than expected.

At the end of the day surrendering the mirage of a complex solution such server virtualization available at no cost will damage companies in the short and medium term.

Future trends
It’s pretty sure server virtualization will remain free, will extend to the datacenter class solutions, now still a profitable part of the vendors offering, and will become pervasive, included in every operating system.

The biggest contribution in this direction will arrive from Microsoft which announced will embed a new virtualization technology called Windows Server Virtualization inside upcoming versions of its server operating system, codename Longhorn.

Within two years or little more virtualization as a commodity will appears in millions of installations, becoming a de-facto standard in datacenter architectures.

Investing in training or consulting today is not just a way to ensure free virtualization will deliver supposed benefits, but it’s also a way to build knowledge and be ahead of competition in the near future.

Free virtualization could appear as a very simple technology to solve very complex problems, and this appearance could lead to not consider mandatory an investment in training or outsourcing help.

The reality is today’s virtualization is very hard to handle and requires new capabilities IT staff doesn’t have.
Companies going to adopt free virtualization too easily could face stop issues at a point of the project so that correcting or reverting back to physical server will result in big waste of money.

This article originally appeared on SearchServerVirtualization.