Virtualization, Consolidation and Cloud - What Will It Mean For Servers? Two Truths and a Myth...

Two Truths and a Myth:

  1. The rate of virtualization (number of servers and / or number of instances per server) has hit a plateau.
  2. The total number of virtual instances will be greater than physical servers in 2011.
  3. Because of virtualization, the number of new servers shipped is declining.


Well, almost – it’s actually two Myths and a Truth …

  1. Myth. Virtualization continues to grow in terms of servers virtualized and instances per server. Leading analysts suggest 21% of new servers are virtualized with 6 instances per server.
  2. Truth. The cross over will happen (based on current projections) this year.
  3. Myth. The number of new servers in the market continues to grow.

Let’s dive in to #3…

At last week’s Hosting Summit, Bob Kelly, Corporate Vice President, Server & Tools (and my boss) talked about the server market and the transition we’re seeing customers and partners make to cloud computing. One of the specific areas he covered was what appears to be insatiable demand for computing as evidenced by year over year increases in customer acquisition of servers. While some might guess that faster, more capable hardware means that overall, fewer servers are going to be needed by customers. But despite that intuition, almost anyone on the server-side of technology will tell you that even with predictable increases in capacity, demand for new servers continues to grow.

The simple reality is that computational demand is growing faster than increases in server capacity. Thus, more servers… In fact, leading analysts project over 9 million new servers will ship in 2014 reflecting this steady year over year increase.


Physical and Virtual Instance Proliferation

As mentioned in the “Truth” above, research indicates that this year the total number of virtual instances will be larger than the number of physical servers. This is an amazing number for lots of reasons not the least of which is that is effectively doubles the number of instances. What’s even more interesting is that forward projections suggest we will see a 3X increase in instance density (# of VMs per physical server) and a 10X increase in effective computational power (through increases in clock-speed / core density / utilization). And yet, we still anticipate that over the next 3 years the number of servers will increase significantly.


Simultaneous Proliferation and Consolidation

Since the dawn of distributed computing, the balance between server proliferation and consolidation has been hard fought. The growth of virtualization has re-fueled speculation that organizations are freshly empowered to reduce servers. While virtualization gains are different than gains derived from hardware improvements, hardware consumption tells us that virtualization will not cover demand. The biggest factor is and remains the rate of application (and therefore IT) growth.

Which Means…

Virtualization will continue to help IT reduce time to solution though improvements in elasticity, scale, management, monitoring, etc. What’s not likely to be on the list in a meaningful way is net server reduction. In the end, it allows us to do more with existing assets which reduces application backlog and allows us to add additional functionality. The strongest correlate to server consolidation is lack of application growth which is correlated more strongly to business health (in the long term) rather than IT discipline. So virtualize early and often, and order more hardware. If you are growing, you’ll need it .