Virtually yours

"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in ten years," proclaimed Alex Lewyt, president of the Lewyt vacuum cleaner company to the New York Times in 1955.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  January 13, 2008

"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in ten years," proclaimed Alex Lewyt, president of the Lewyt vacuum cleaner company to the New York Times in 1955.

An example of hype overtaking common sense? Quite possibly, but it's also somewhat indicative of the lengths to which IT vendors will go to when promoting their latest software or hardware development.

By now, CIOs must be utterly fed up of sitting through yet another presentation which promises - for only a small multimillion dollar up-front investment - to utterly transform their operations by cutting costs, adding functionality, improving connectivity, vast opportunities for press friendly ‘green initiatives' - your eyes have probably glazed over reading the previous sentence, because without evidence, all these claims are really just words on a page and have been used far, far too many times to be taken seriously anymore.

It's equally frustrating for vendors trying to promote that rare new product which, outside of rampant marketing, actually does have some business benefit. If there's any place on earth which probably best embodies the spirit of technological conservatism, it's the Middle East.

In fact, the response from regional CIOs to a new idea in IT can probably best be summed up by this quote from Sir William Preece, chief engineer at the British Post Office in 1878: "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys."

So it's all the more surprising that vendors and end users seem be in absolute agreement about virtualisation - the ability to present a singular piece of hardware as multiple virtual devices - and are happily repeating the same mantra - "it's the way of the future, the way of the future".

With the ability to virtualise nearly any piece of hardware or software, virtualisation has the potential to completely transform the enterprise IT space. The depth to which it can be applied within an organisation's operations is really only limited by the imagination of the IT manager.

And the best part of the new drive for virtualisation is that it often doesn't necessitate purchasing expensive new systems to manage these virtualised systems, nor are users locked into one vendor - indeed, one of the key benefits of virtualisation is that it allows you to manage disparate systems as if they were one and the same, without being aware of each other's presence on the same physical hardware.

There's only one niggle - if the future is really this rosy, you're probably asking, why is there a deafening silence emitting from the region denoting a complete lack of virtualisation success stories? Surely a technology that's been heavily promoted for the best part of this year would have found some takers by now?

The answer, I suggest, is in the attitude I described earlier - everybody here loves a shiny new car, but no one wants to be the first one on the block with smoke billowing from the hood on the roadside. However, when the car has proven itself to be reliable and effective, you're sure to find the whole city driving it the next day.

And so it has turned out with virtualisation, where cautious optimism has become the order of the day. In fact, nearly every CIO or IT manager I've spoken to in the last two months in every major sector has expressed a strong desire - after carefully examining the business case of course - to instigate virtualisation in some form in their organisations - and some have moved way beyond the consideration stage and have already begun the first pilot implementations.

The trouble is, if no one starts to announce implementations soon, other regional decision makers who are holding off on virtualisation may start to perceive it as a technological non-starter, leaving it just another fragmented, niche product for IT geeks - and while I'm still a bit cautious about those nuclear-powered Hoovers, unlike William Preece, I'm all for the telephone.

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