Virtualisation has gotten into many nooks and crannies of IT infrastructure, but some of the available vendor technology is half-baked, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

According to Forrester, as of Q2 2008, server and client virtualisation is mature enough to pay off in the short term, but storage virtualisation - particularly application storage - is "not very advanced" and doesn't yet offer much payback.

Application storage virtualisation, which is offered by EMC, IBM, HP and Oracle, is still taking its first steps, available only in alpha versions. Forrester analyst Galen Schreck says in the report that at this early point, its value is questionable, given that the technology only offers "basic tiering and thin provisioning" that customers can already get from more mature forms of storage virtualisation.

Oracle Database is one basic example of early application storage virtualisation. It's capable of managing and virtualising raw disk using the application's own file system. Forrester believes that other vendors are also working on such capabilities, which will allow applications to make sophisticated policy decisions about where their content is stored.

Give it three to five years, Forrester suggests, during which time application storage virtualization will work itself into major application platforms that have long refresh cycles. When it's good and ripe, though, the technology is poised for "significant success," the report concludes.

Application storage virtualisation was one of 17 virtualisation technologies Forrester looked at for the report, and it was the only one that the analyst firm slotted into its "Creation Phase."

Some other virtualisation technologies that Forrester thinks aren't yet ready for prime time, but which Forrester categorises as having clawed their way up to becoming "Survival Phase" technologies:

- Network performance. "Services for enhancing network performance have not been that widely deployed, limiting their overall business value. Today, they are typically found in busy web application environments but rarely in the rest of the network infrastructure," Schreck says in the report. Within three to five years, this technology will take off, he said, since it will produce "strong and measurable ROI" by allowing applications to work better with less infrastructure.

- Network security. The main benefit of virtualised network security is in avoiding the need to purchase a new security appliance for each new application, but most organisations haven't implemented this type of pervasive security, Forrester says. With big security and networking vendors ready to deliver within the year, mainstream adoption is near, but Forrester thinks the promise of instantly delivered pervasive security services is only going to have moderate success. "Most firms have not migrated from a heavily protected perimeter to a more pervasive security," Schreck writes.

- Out-of-band storage virtualisation. Forrester is giving this one three to five years, after which the technology should see significant success because of its promise to deliver intelligent applications such as automated data movement based on business priority. In the short term, although it's supported by major SAN (Storage Area Network) vendors, deployment calls for a significant investment and changes to critical infrastructure.

- VM appliances. The basic standards are there for virtual disk formats, but software vendors have been sluggish to move to this type of distribution. Virtual appliances tend to lack the automatic updates and appliance-like management that make them inexpensive over the long run. Give this one three to five years, though, after which Forrester sees virtual appliances will "radically" simplify vendors' software testing, since they won't have to account for as many deployment scenarios. That will bring us more stable software that's easier to deploy and manage, on top of faster updates, Forrester says.

- VM automation. Most mainstream customers aren't yet ready to hand over control to policy-based automation tools, Forrester says. Within three to five years, IT shops may be ready for this level of automation, after they've finished implementing better IT processes such as change management.

Virtualising this piece of the puzzle is destined for success, however, given that VM automation tools will allow commodity servers to deliver big-ticket capabilities such as automated disaster recovery and workload prioritization, Forrester says.

And then there are the virtualisation technologies that Forrester thinks have hit the "Growth Phase;" i.e., those that have been around long enough that their ecosystems are diverse and their production stories are ample enough for customers to make a decision. These include clustered storage virtualisation, VM management, network hardware virtualisation, hosted desktop virtualisation, local application virtualisation, local desktop virtualisation and VM hypervisors.

Finally, Forrester pegs four virtualisation technologies as being at the "Equilibrium Phase." That means their benefits and limitations are well-documented. At the end of such a phase, the market is "highly consolidated," the customer uptake flattens, and revenues start to slip. Forrester classifies network bandwidth virtualisation, hosted application virtualisation, in-band storage virtualisation and host-based storage virtualisation as being in the Equilibrium Phase.