Mobility: Virtualization's next frontier?

IDC analyst points to virtual apps that run on any hardware, at current performance levels, as the way of the future.

SINGAPORE--Though virtualization is largely used today to consolidate hardware, the technology's future lies in application mobility, according to IDC.

Vernon Turner, group vice president and general manager of enterprise computing at analyst company IDC, said virtualization must move beyond its current primary role in hardware consolidation.

"VMware has done a good job in marketing virtual machines… And the industry has latched onto the idea of virtual machines to mean virtual hardware," Turner told ZDNet Asia, on the sidelines of the IDC Asia-Pacific InfraVision conference here last week.

While virtualization has allowed organizations to maximize the use of their computing hardware, he added that the technology must now evolve into "virtualization 2.0", what he describes as the next phase of development which includes mobility and portability.

According to Turner, the challenge--before virtualization 2.0 can materialize--is that most people think of mobility and portability as features demonstrated by cellphones.

"But that's not the case," he said. "What we mean by mobility is that applications can run on any kind of hardware, have adequate security, and their performance shouldn't change."

Turner noted that vendors such as Altiris, have been offering application virtualization products for some time, but "their messages are often drowned by the large systems integrators" that have been touting SOA-based application and infrastructure management tools.

"If you are a systems vendor, and you see the industry you play in become uniform and commoditized, the way you differentiate yourself is through management," he said.

Crossing the SOA hurdle
As a hot industry buzzword, the service-oriented architecture (SOA) has often been viewed with much skepticism among IT chiefs. Turner said this is because in the last 40 years, the industry has written applications that were never meant to be broken down into components.

"[Those] applications have been built around a stack of functions," he said. "What you're saying now to the CIO is, spend some money to decompose the applications that you spent a lot on in the first place."

Turner noted that until businesses can get "seamless transformation" to move their legacy applications on to a SOA framework in a cost-effective way, SOA will only be implemented for new applications.

Furthermore, he added that because vendors differ in the way they approach SOA, enterprise customers have trouble deciding which vendor platform to choose.

Turner said: "Do you back an IBM, Sun or Microsoft environment? With SOA and virtualization at this stage, customers are still frightened of vendor lock-in… Consequently, they're taking [SOA] very slowly."

The IDC analyst agreed that vendor-centric SOA platforms go against the idea of achieving interoperability between service components--a key benefit of SOA--which organizations can easily buy and slot into their own SOA deployment.

"When that happens, the barriers to entry into IBM's market space get reduced," he explained. "Everyone's nervous about lowering those barriers too fast."

But Turner pointed out that even if SOA's market barriers are lowered, the resulting expansion will compensate for the loss of business. "Vendors don't know how to handle and compete with a marked market expansion."