Even if you've never heard of Flextronics you have probably used or benefited from one of the products this global digital equipment manufacturer has helped assemble -- a Microsoft Xbox 360, for example, or components that show up in everything from Cisco and Motorola devices to aerospace and automotive equipment.

With 250,000 employees in 30 countries, Flextronics has more than 10,000 servers, about half of which are virtualised in two major data centres - one in the U.S. and the other in Hong Kong - while the rest are scattered across 130 locations around the world. CIO David Smoley - who will soon become CIO of AstraZenca - says his overarching goal is to migrate as much hardware as possible from these individual sites to the data centre hubs: "The opportunity to push virtualisation to its limits in an effort to improve our ability to supply resources to our users is super important to us."

Smoley and other executives envision a virtual data centre nirvana where behind-the-firewall IT resources handle mission critical workloads and a connected secure public cloud provides additional capacity.

Getting there is a challenge, but what's making it feasible is the convergence of multiple technologies. Virtualisation has rewritten the rules for compute and is now making waves in storage and networking, and cloud computing and converged infrastructure options are coming on strong. Yet speed bumps abound. IT shops are wrestling with everything from heterogeneous hypervisor environments to concerns about security, reliability, availability, performance and even staffing and expertise. So where are we in getting to that nirvana vision? "It's not a reality yet," Smoley says, "but we're getting close."