Agility will become the most important measure of data centre excellence within the next five years as virtualisation takes off.  

Gartner analysts, speaking yesterday at Gartner's Data Center Summit 2007 in London, point out that virtualisation will greatly reduce the number of servers, space, power and cooling demands to ultimately enable agility.
"An agile data centre will handle exceptions effectively, but learn from exceptions to improve standards and processes," says Tom Bittman, Gartner vice-president and distinguished analyst. "Agility will become a major business differentiator in a connected world. Business agility requires agility in the data centre, which is difficult as many of the technologies for improving the intelligence and self-management of IT are very immature, but they will evolve over the next ten years."
Within the data centre, agility should be measured in terms that make sense to the business, such as the time and cost to deploy new servers, to install new software or to fix a problem.
Gartner defines agility as the ability of an organisation to sense environmental change and respond efficiently and effectively. However, no organisation will be agile if its infrastructure is not designed for agility. Bittman says: "Agility is the right strategic balance between speed and operational efficiency."
As a core enabler of agility, virtualisation is the abstraction of IT resources in a way that makes it possible to creatively build IT services.
While the vast majority of large organisations have started to virtualise their servers, Gartner estimates that currently only 6% of the addressable market is penetrated by virtualisation, a figure set to rise to 11% by 2009. However, the number of virtualised machines deployed on servers is expected to grow from 1,2-million today to 4-million in 2009.
"Virtualisation changes virtually everything," says Bittman. He explains that it is not just about consolidation but also includes transitioning resource management from individual servers to pools, increasing server deployment speeds up to 30-times.
Virtualisation is a major enabler for infrastructure automation, and will help accelerate the trend toward IT operations process automation.
However, Gartner warns that tools alone are not a substitute for a good process and made the following recommendations to organisations planning or implementing virtualisation:
* When looking at IT projects, balance the virtualised and unvirtualised services. Also look at the investments and trade-offs;
* Reuse virtualised services across the portfolio. Every new project does not warrant a new virtualisation technology or approach;
* Understand the impact of virtualisation on the project's life cycle. In particular, look for licensing, support and testing constraints;
* Focus not just on virtualisation platforms, but also on the management tools and the impact on operations;
* Look at emerging standards for the management and virtualisation space.
"IT organisations should have strategic plans in place that include agility improvements. Ultimately, agility requirements are determined and valued by the business," Bittman adds.