Data Center Appliances See Virtual Growth

New GrowthIs there anything currently server-based that will not be virtualized in the future? It is starting to look as if the answer is “Not a lot”, with analysts reporting that one of the last hold-outs for actual physical hardware – the market for data center load balancers and WAN optimizers – is starting to make the shift.

According to a recent report from Dell’Oro Group, while virtual appliances made up just seven percent of total appliance sales into the data centre in the second quarter of 2012, they contributed 37 percent of the revenue growth. A Dell’Oro analyst who worked on the report noted that sequential growth in the WAN optimization segment was even higher, at 58 percent.

And of course where virtual appliances are concerned, that growth is from software revenue alone, whereas the revenue from non-virtual appliances includes hardware too.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise, but there was a strong comfort factor for many system administrators in having an actual box to wire up and monitor. Still, the fear, uncertainty and doubt over virtualization has been overcome elsewhere – many organizations initially trusted their virtual servers only with non-business-critical work such as R&D, but once they had proven themselves there, they quickly moved into production roles as application servers, web servers and many more.

And as data centers were virtualizing everything else, such as the applications, servers and storage that they took care of for others, it made sense to start virtualizing their infrastructure devices too.

This has already adversely affected some suppliers: Cisco recently let slip that it was backing away from the market for ADC (application delivery controller) hardware. ADCs are layer 4-7 load balancers and are vital for moving workloads around in virtualized and cloud-type data centers; however, Cisco’s ADC technology, called ACE, had been left behind by rivals – and in particular by virtualized rivals.

The advantages of virtualization are well-rehearsed: on the hardware and power side, individual servers may be bigger, busier and hotter running, but you should have far fewer of them so it’s a win overall. And breaking the one-to-one physical link between hardware and workloads means you can easily move virtual appliances onto different hardware, allocate them extra system resources (“pay as you grow”, say the Dell’Oro analysts), or even duplicate them for greater total capacity.

Whether it’s for ADCs or WAN optimization – or one of half a dozen other infrastructure purposes – virtual servers are now as capable as physical, if not more so. Taking them virtual also reduces the number of management consoles required, as it means they can be overseen from the same hypervisor-based console as all the other virtual servers.

It all adds up into a momentum that looks hard to ignore. So how about you: will you be virtualizing your data center admin gear, or have I missed a key reason for keeping it physical?