More than any time in the past, the data center and even the role of IT are clearly in the beginning of an evolution. Although IT has always been changing rapidly, it’s clear that we’re entering a period in which new technologies will significantly change the way IT infrastructures are built and managed. The three main driving forces behind this IT evolution are mass adoption of virtualization, the rise of cloud computing, and the explosion of multiple types of powerful mobile devices.

Virtualization has definitely changed the IT landscape. In just a few years, virtualization has moved from an experimental technology used only in test and development environments to a core infrastructure platform. Now, many businesses plan for all new servers to be virtualized—and they need to have a reason to implement physical servers rather than virtual servers. Although there are several contributing factors, server consolidation is the primary force that’s driving the wholesale adoption of virtualization. Server consolidation lets organizations increase the rate of server hardware utilization while simultaneously decreasing the power costs and management requirements. In addition, high-availability technologies such as vMotion and Live Migration have also emancipated virtual machines (VMs) from their physical hosts, creating the foundation for the dynamic data center where VMs can be moved between hosts automatically in response to changing workloads. Virtualization is a core mainstream technology that will definitely alter the IT landscape for the foreseeable future. IDC studies have shown that one out of every five servers is virtualized today—but it seems clear that those numbers will be reversed in just a few years, and virtual servers will far outnumber physical ones.

The cloud is also an emerging trend that will most certainly reshape IT. Although there’s a certain school of thought that says the cloud is built on top of virtualization, that’s not necessarily the case. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings such as Amazon’s EC2 and Azure’s Hyper-V clearly rely on virtualization, and many other services are built on virtual servers. However, there’s no inherent reason that cloud services must use virtualization. In fact, the abstraction of the services from their underlying implementation is one of the main tenants of cloud computing. Whereas virtualization is well established, the cloud is still in its infancy. Just as virtualization abstracts the server from the underlying hardware, the cloud abstracts the service or application from the underlying infrastructure and lets you manage multiple servers and applications as part of an overreaching service. The cloud is just beginning to be a viable option for businesses—but services are emerging that will provide businesses with compelling and ready-to-use solutions (e.g., Windows Intune, Microsoft Office 365). The current uptake might be slow, but the adoption of cloud technologies is sure to grow, transferring parts of the IT infrastructure to off-premises hosting companies.

Mobility is the other main force that’s driving the evolution of the data center. Smartphones, such as the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, have evolved into way more than just phones. They’re mobile computing platforms that keep us connected to corporate assets when we’re out of the office. Furthermore, the proliferation of mobile apps and widespread Internet connectivity have made smartphones useful productivity devices in their own right. One of the really interesting trends that I’ve seen in the mobility space is the virtualization of mobile devices. At VMworld 2010, I saw VMware demonstrate a prototype of a virtualized mobile phone. Before that, I hadn’t considered mobile devices a viable candidate for virtualization. However, it makes sense when you consider how many of us carry multiple devices for work and for home. Virtualization of mobile devices would allow you to carry one device with multiple personalities. In addition, it’s clear that today’s mobile devices are full-blown computers that will soon be capable of supporting virtualized environments—if they don’t already. The use and support of multiple mobile platforms is moving IT out of the office and into the field, as well as stretching the window in which IT assets must be accessible.

Virtualization, the cloud, and mobility are driving the evolution of IT from an on-premises internally managed entity to a heterogeneous multifaceted component that’s composed of a combination of internal resources, such as virtualized servers, and external resources, such as cloud services, that stretch IT outside the office space into an always-on and always-connected workspace. This evolution is occurring quickly and is already well underway.