There is a proverbial war raging in the IT virtualization market today and now may be the time to capitalize on the fallout. Virtualization in the IT sense is the abstraction of system-level processes from the underlying Operating System and Hardware. In more palpable terms, it’s the creation of “virtual machines” or “VM’s” running on a single (or multiple) physical machine(s) in order to take advantage of system resources that may otherwise be sitting idle. (Note: There are many other forms of “virtualization” such as network, storage and data, but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll focus on Server virtualization).
Virtualizing server resources to centralize administration, improve scalability and increase operational efficiency has been an overall trend in the IT industry for the last decade. However, cost has been a significant barrier to entry for many non-profit organizations. Cost reduction was supposed to be one of the original tenets of virtualization. But, as the concept of virtualization became more popular in the early 2000’s and open-source projects matured, most platforms were gobbled up by commercial entities. The subsequent licensing costs imposed by these organizations made any ROI difficult for smaller IT shops to obtain. Up until now, only the largest IT organizations with sizeable IT budgets have realized any tangible benefits of virtualization, and most of those benefits were centered primarily around scalability and redundancy not cost reduction.
Today, the server virtualization market is seeing accelerated growth and increased competition within the space is a bi-product. The competition has been driven, in part, by “Cloud” service providers. However, in-house IT shops looking to build their own “Internal Clouds” have also contributed to the growing virtualization market and the increased competition within it. In a market dominated by VMware, relatively new players such as Red Hat and CloudStack as well as traditional players such as Microsoft and Citrix have emerged as viable alternatives. Many of the alternative solutions have also matured to the point that they offer many of the same features and functionality that previously made VMware the only logical choice for more complex virtualization needs. The growing number of viable alternatives to VMware, which are often offered at a substantial discount to what VMware had traditionally priced their solutions, has begun to erode VMware’s stranglehold on the virtualization market. VMware recently responded by restructuring their pricing models for some of their core products as well as bundling offerings together at substantially discounted rates to make their solutions more attractive.
In addition to a decrease in overall pricing among virtualization vendors, new features offered by these vendors have also reduced dependencies on expensive shared storage platforms (SANs, etc.) that were once a requirement for virtualized environments. Now that you can run fully-virtualized environments on cheap commodity hardware and still take advantage of advanced virtualization capabilities such as live migrations, the cost of virtualization has dropped significantly.
With the barriers to entry seemingly lowered and the benefits of virtualization becoming more tangible, there may be no better time than the present to make the jump to virtualized server infrastructure if you haven’t done so already!