While they may not necessarily own as many servers or data centers as their large enterprise counterparts, the potential and benefits of virtualization do not elude small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in Asia, although hurdles such as awareness and skills gap still exist, analysts say.
Organizations with huge computer rooms and data centers are a "natural target" for virtualization deployments, but it does not mean organizations with only a few servers will not benefit, said Errol Rasit, principal research analyst at Gartner.
He emphasized that the biggest benefits of virtualization--consolidation and agility--are not exclusive for large organizations to enjoy. "Powering, managing and cooling eight physical servers is a very resource-intensive way to manage eight applications, whereas you can buy and run just one server with virtualization software to run eight virtual servers."
Companies deploy server virtualization to gain capabilities of consolidation, agility, and multitasking in order to fulfill end-goals unique to their own organization. So, "if the price is right" to get these capabilities, then customers, regardless of size, will naturally gravitate toward virtualization, Rasit pointed out.
The growing ubiquity of virtualization technology will likely push it into SMB space eventually, he added.
Not yet taken off with SMBs
Despite these positive prospects, analysts acknowledged virtualization uptake among Asian SMBs continues to be hampered.
Venu Reddy, Asia-Pacific vice president of AMI-Partners, said the "greatest inhibitor" was the lack of skills or an able partner to deploy well-designed virtualization infrastructure, which according to him, was "not a simple or inexpensive engagement" for SMBs.
"Asian SMBs do not have resources or access to talent with the specific skills required to undertake virtualization projects."
-- Mayank Kapoor
Industry Analyst, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan
Apart from the lack of right skills, the lack of knowledge is another primary barrier preventing widespread traction of virtualization, added Mayank Kapoor, industry analyst for ICT practice in Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan.
Asian SMBs do not have resources or access to talent with the specific skills required to undertake virtualization projects. And even though there are tech-savvy entrepreneurs in the region, most decision makers among the SMBs actually have limited knowledge regarding virtualization and its inherent benefits, he noted.
Gartner's Rasit concurred, citing the lack of education and awareness as the biggest hindrance. "Virtualization technology providers are still pretty busy spreading the message and educating Asian server customers."
The analysts all identified cost as a constantly-cited barrier as well. Some SMBs still see the relative affordability of hiring physical administrators, power and space as reason enough to not invest in virtualization, said Rasit.
Douglas Gan, co-founder of Singapore Web startup Vanity Trove, said virtualization was "definitely appealing to SMBs but not beneficial for now" as current technologies were not yet affordable enough for them to adopt. Some SMBs may also have decided on full cloud-based solutions for all their working needs, he added.
Nonetheless, Gan, said the time when SMBs deploy and reap the benefits of virtualization "will come soon enough".
SMB adoption growing slowly
Frost & Sullivan's Kapoor also saw market potential for virtualization uptake among SMBs in the region, and predicted adoption to grow over the next three to four years.
SMBs typically have limited funds for capital expenditure, he explained, and virtualization can help lower infrastructure-related spending.
Server virtualization also enables SMBs to "stretch [their] current physical infrastructure", by deriving greater utilization and performance as well as add new applications to it without the need for more physical servers. This in turn leads to easier infrastructure management as well as safeguards against infrastructure failures, he said.
Besides server virtualization, Kapoor added that desktop virtualization also "makes sense" for SMBs too, especially if the business has a sizable fleet of mobile workers who can then assess their companies' networks and applications remotely at any time.
Furthermore, desktop virtualization ensures security as data is kept in a central location which particularly useful for certain SMBs such as boutique consulting or financial firms, Kapoor pointed out. Such companies would look for ways to secure confidential data and prevent accidental loss or exposure due to loss of staff's hardware, he said.