Whether it's for servers or storage, data center managers, network administrators and others are realizing the advantages virtualization brings to the table.   By Sixto Ortiz, Jr. | December 2007  
Server virtualization is helping administrators consolidate their resources and reduce unchecked server sprawl. Storage virtualization allows for the optimization and most efficient use of storage resources. But as with any new technology, virtualization brings its own sets of challenges along with its benefits. Which means administrators are coming to rely on focused skills and expertise. Virtualization Defined   In a nutshell, virtualization is technology that allows for the abstraction of computing resources. Virtualized resources can be presented to users and applications in the most logical way possible, without regard to the physical characteristics of the resources themselves. For example, server virtualization can subdivide a single physical server into multiple "virtual servers" that can be deployed as the need arises. It eliminates the need for multiple physical servers, which are more costly to maintain and largely underutilized. In another instance, virtualization can provide users with virtual machines that allow them to run multiple operating systems on the same desktop computer. Today and Tomorrow   Virtualization technology has been gaining momentum throughout 2006 and 2007. According to a recent Forrester Research report, Server Virtualization Accelerates in North America, the number of enterprises using virtualization increased from 29 percent to 40 percent between 2005 and 2006. Alessandro Perilli, an independent industry analyst and founder of the Web site virtualization.info, says so far virtualization has been adopted mainly in large enterprises, where there is greater need for cost savings and energy-efficient solutions. Forrester's statistics certainly reflect this thinking: Even though virtualization adoption increased in large enterprises from 2005 to 2006, the rate of adoption decreased for small and medium-sized enterprises. And, observes Perilli, where virtualization is being used is also expanding: Even though the technologies were initially applied to server consolidation, IT managers are starting to use virtualization for other tasks, such as disaster recovery and desktop management. Meanwhile, market research firm IDC forecasts the virtualization services market will grow from $5.5 billion in 2006 to $11.7 billion in 2011. The reason: the ongoing transition of virtualization from new technology into the mainstream. As data centers struggle to integrate virtualization into their infrastructures, the need for services in the form of consulting and systems integration will rise accordingly. This uptick certainly bodes well for professionals with expertise in system integration and general IT consulting. According to IDC, consulting and system integration skills will be needed to help companies determine where virtualization fits in their existing infrastructures. People who understand the technology well, and can assist adopters in taking full advantage of it, will be in demand. Real-World Skills Needed   The only sure thing about the skills and expertise required is that they will evolve and change as the technology evolves and changes. And such a far reaching technology is bound to affect all aspects of IT. Says virtualization.info's Perilli: "Virtualization impacts all aspects of data centers, therefore all the traditional jobs we have in the industry today, like IT architects, sys admins, security auditors, etc, are heavily influenced." As virtualization becomes more entrenched, hiring practices are changing. In the last few years, employers looked for job candidates who both fit traditional IT roles - such as architects, sys admins, etc. - and had some side experience in virtualization, says Perilli. But today, more employers are recognizing the need for a new class of professionals who have shaped their skills around the technology. Also, in virtualization platforms anything from the hardware to the application level can impact the virtual infrastructure, Perilli says. So a virtualization professional is, essentially, in charge of everything. "Since virtualization controls and shapes so many technologies in the data center, virtualization professionals have to be kind of IT superheroes, highly skilled in operating systems, storage, networking, security, and even performance measurement (i.e., benchmarking)," he says. That need for professionals who are flexible and knowledgeable in many areas will not change soon. Because virtualization platforms offer few features that allow for separation of duties, it's almost impossible to delegate control of different aspects to different professionals, Perilli explains. The advantages virtualization delivers are simply too compelling for administrators and CIOs to ignore. As the technology continues to integrate itself into all aspects of IT infrastructures, the need for professionals who understand the technology will only increase. For those willing to embrace a technology that is rapidly evolving, the opportunities are there for the taking. Sixto Ortiz, Jr., is a Houston-based journalist who has been writing about information technology since 1996.