Application virtualisation: the next big thing?

Just when you thought there could not possibly be yet another conference on virtualisation, more flyers arrive through the electronic letterbox.

Just when you thought there could not possibly be yet another conference on virtualisation, more flyers arrive through the electronic letterbox.

The statistics are alarming. Ten thousand people at VMWorld and 90% of adopters see space and energy saving as the principal benefits.

So why have so many grasped the message so late, not realising they are riding a dwindling wave while the big one is coming up fast behind?

Adoption is polarised. My business - the EWS Group - fully virtualised two years ago. Others in our industry have not even started, missing out on years of benefits.

There are several possible reasons for this. Perhaps it is because mainstream suppliers, including Microsoft, have been slow to deliver their own products. It could be that the benefits, restricted to the datacentre, are too hard to present in business terms to the investment committee. It may even be a misconception of the risk, or rather lack of it, that is holding people back.

What they have not spotted, is that those who have made the server virtualisation leap, and loved it, are already moving to the next stage - application virtualisation. In doing so, they are decoupling previously static and siloed applications from the fixed hardware and datacentre, thereby allowing the alignment of resource with demand across multiple servers, locations and even suppliers in real time.

This is where the real business benefit is. Let's be clear, server virtualisation is good and there are real hardware, energy, space and management cost savings. But these are simple benefits and only available in proportion to servers saved. In other words, although worth doing, it's not terribly exciting.

In contrast, application virtualisation unlocks benefits of altogether another order. Virtualising the application, and therefore optimising a business process and not merely an IT asset, delivers uniquely a direct link between IT spend and business benefit.

There is an even more exciting bit. Combining the emerging technologies of application virtualisation and SaaS opens up the opportunity to deliver new business models at dramatically reduced costs in support of changed business processes. Is it just hype? Well, it would not be the IT industry if there was no hype, but these approaches really will change the way we consume IT and provide service to our businesses. New entrants will emerge to challenge existing providers with genuinely innovative business models.

Server capacity will be traded as a commodity, much like electricity. Consumers of Mips will buy from the cheapest supplier, not with a ten-year contract, not even a ten-week contract, but exactly when they want it. When our demand is high, we will buy spare capacity in the market, moving between suppliers across the globe as price and demand changes, all in real time. We will exist at a point on the cost-service curve that we cannot conceive of today and hardware failure driven outages will be a thing of the past.

So virtualisation is rapidly becoming yesterday's "must do" technology. Now it is also tomorrow's, but in a radically different form.

For those of you who have not yet spotted it, get on your boards, the wave is coming and it is a big one.

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