Virtualisation will be the most important technology in IT infrastructures and operations up to 2010, according to Gartner, dramatically changing how IT departments manage, buy, deploy, plan and charge for their services. 

Speaking at Gartner's Infrastructure, Operations and Data Centre Summit in Sydney yesterday, Gartner vice-president and distinguished analyst Thomas Bittman said that virtualisation was no longer only about server and storage consolidation and cost saving.
"It is now less about the technology and more about process change and cultural change within organisations," says Bittman. "Virtualisation enables alternative delivery models for services. Each virtualised layer can be managed relatively independently or even owned by someone else, for example, streamed applications or employee-owned PCs. This can require major cultural changes for organisations."
The total number of virtual machines deployed worldwide is expected to increase from 540 000 at the end of 2006 to more than 4-million by 2009, according to Gartner, but this is still only a fraction of the potential market.
"Several things will make virtualisation critical to most enterprises in the next few years: the need to consolidate space, power, installation and integration, and providing server resources which are capable of responding to unpredictable workloads," says Bittman. "By the end of next year, virtual machine hypervisor technology will be almost free, embedded in servers by hardware manufacturers and in operating systems by software vendors, further accelerating adoption."
Virtualisation is having a considerable impact on the server market worldwide, according to Gartner.
"Every virtual server has the potential to take another physical server off the market," says Bittman. "Today, more than 90% of users deploying virtual machines are doing so specifically to reduce x86 server, space and energy costs. We believe that virtualisation reduced the x86 server market by 4% in 2006, and by 2009 it will have a far greater impact."
Virtualisation on the PC has even more potential than server virtualisation to improve the management of IT infrastructure, according to Bittman.
"Virtualisation on the client is perhaps two years behind, but it is going to be much bigger. On the PC, it is about isolation and creating a managed environment that the user can't touch. This will help change the paradigm of desktop computer management in organisations. It will make the trend towards employee-owned notebooks more manageable, flexible and secure."
In his keynote presentation, Bittman said that the gap between the well managed and the badly managed IT infrastructure is growing. A November 2006 survey of 700 Gartner clients showed that most organisations are in the very early stages of their infrastructure and operations maturity.
"Virtualisation without good management is more dangerous than not using virtualisation in the first place," says Bittman. "Automation is the critical next step to help organisations stop 'virtualisation sprawl', which is not much better than server sprawl."
Gartner recommends that organisations develop a vision for their own infrastructure and build a plan to get there.
"Nothing beats infrastructure and operations when it comes to the ability to impact IT spending, staffing and business performance. Despite all the talk, IT infrastructure has not become a commodity. As technology vendors battle for control over your IT infrastructure, having a vision of your own will help you stay in control."