Virtualization, mobility and open source are among the most promising technologies for enabling companies to become more agile, but these network and IT advances still have a lot of maturing to do, according to analysts at an IT conference in Boston last week.
"There are parts of [the virtualization] market that have matured...and when I say parts of this market, I mean VMware," said Rachel Chalmers, senior analyst of enterprise software at The 451 Group, a New York-based industry research and analysis firm that orchestrated the Enterprise IT Innovation Summit.
But even VMware has room to grow, said Chalmers, who divvies up the market into aggregation, emulation and partitioning products. While VMware's ESX Server is great for handling Web, e-mail, file and print serving, she said organizations such as Linden Labs (operator of the Second Life virtual world) and Google would love an alternative that better fit their applications and boasted higher performance. "Their applications are already I/O- and CPU-bound," she said. "They don't need another abstraction layer."
Chalmers said that there's a lot of noise about the open source Xen virtualization technology, "but the consensus on the user side is that it's not ready for prime time yet, it's not robust enough."
She describes management of virtualized systems as both a problem and business opportunity. VMware-enablement vendors are targeting the opportunity and running into the likes of Altiris and HP that offer data center management tools. "In some it's a lot easier for a company that already has server automation and management tools to just add on extra [virtual machine] management tools," Chalmers said. "But in another sense managing the virtual machine is not identical with managing the physical machine it is a metaphor for. For example, 100 percent CPU usage means a completely different thing on a virtual machine from what it would mean on the equivalent physical machine."
Another huge issue is license management. "It is not clear how proprietary vendors who make their living off software license revenues are going to charge for software that is run on virtual machines," Chalmers said. "Are they going to charge for every instance of the software on a virtual machine? Are they going to have a blanket fee? If you're actually paying for every copy of Windows Server on a single physical server that you've consolidated your Web, print and file server to, that eats away at a lot of what would otherwise be cost savings from a server consolidation effort."
While virtualization vendors and developers have their challenges, it's not like providers of other promising technologies such asmobility and wireless have it figured out either.
"Mobile isn't mature in any form or fashion," said Tony Rizzo, 451 Group's sector head for mobile software.
Mobility within the enterprise initially involved mobile middleware vendors extending legacy applications that were mainly for paper-oriented tasks, such as those used by people in the field to take and track orders. "The problem now is that a lot of these mobile middleware vendors are running out of legacy applications to extend," he said.
The focus now is less on vertical applications than on giving the average non-road warrior the ability to bring their desktop experience to any mobile setting. Rizzo said he would love to see vendors help eliminate the phrase "I'll get that to you as soon as I get back to the office."
But he added that the hardware isn't entirely suited to providing users with their usual desktop applications when they are mobile. This is where companies looking to make desktop applications work anywhere, through technologies such as AJAX, come in, he said.
Others point to a lack of pervasive wireless broadband, though Rizzo said he sees this technology coming around.
The bigger issues holding back mobility are business-oriented, Rizzo said. "It's really an enterprise attitude to wanting to make those employees mobile. It's not so much a technology issue as a business issue," he said. "There are lots and lots of companies out there still -- and lots of them are Fortune 500 companies -- that still have Windows 95 running on their desktops."