VMware license changes could spark a wave of data center 'devirtualization'

Data center devirtualization concept image showing a data center server room.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Businesses could start shifting their workloads back into physical servers due to increasing virtualization costs, Gartner has reported as part of its 2024 Hype Cycle for Data Center Infrastructure Technologies report.

Gartner defines this process as ‘devirtualization,’ the act of moving a workload or application from a “hypervisor-based virtualized host” to a physical host that’s formed of server hardware, operating systems, and management tools

The initial move to devirtualization may be “triggered” by issues of cost, which are being driven by the movement from perpetual license to capacity consumption models, the consultancy firm stated. 

The ongoing fallout from Broadcom’s acquisition of VMware can be blamed more specifically, with Gartner clients reporting “increased costs” with on-prem virtualization as a result of the move. 

The report provided greater technical detail on the drivers of devirtualization, focusing first on the increasing prominence of new bundling, socket-to-core ratios, and consumption models which drive costs up by between two-and-three times.

Large virtualized workloads do not benefit from the same cost savings as smaller ones, the report added, meaning larger workloads could be ripe for devirtualization in certain cases. 

Gartner clients also do not have access to alternate vendors with the same abilities in virtual machine (VM) migrations, or else they depend on cloud-based services rather than on-prem ones.  

The consultancy predicts that this burgeoning trend of devirtualization will increase business reliance on physical materials as organizations begin investing back into physical hardware.

“As workloads devirtualize and move to physical hardware, the portability functions need replacing in the bare metal physical world of devirtualization. This requires investment in high value and high cost replacement functions and buy-in from the business,” the report said. 

Devirtualization is not a straightforward process

Gartner outlined a few of the obstacles businesses are likely to encounter when undertaking a process of devirtualization, such as the administrative impact of “signoff and renegotiation” with impacted business units.

There are also costs associated with switching that “offset” business exposure to the burden of virtualization contracts, meaning devirtualization might not be as attractive a move in certain situations. 

Gartner recommends that businesses always look at the total cost of devirtualization projects, including resilience dependencies and availability for both planned and unplanned downtime

The firm also noted the importance of managing the costs in replacing “live migration and host-based recovery” with physical alternatives, as well as managing the conversations with different departments impacted by devirtualization. 


Crucially, devirtualization could have a knock-on effect for business sustainability metrics. Mark Adams, co-founder at Inevidesk, told ITPro that carbon emissions could go up if organizations turn their attention back to physical servers. 

“Reverting to purchasing more physical servers will be detrimental to the environment, as it leads to additional carbon emissions during the production of physical servers and increased consumption to run them individually,” Adams said.

“Organizations considering a return to using only bare metal must educate themselves about the other virtualization options available in the market,” he added.

Adams didn’t think this process of devirtualization would have a “significant” impact on the industry in the long-term, however. He said that the environmental and financial inefficiency of physical workloads will ultimately turn decision-makers off the process.

George Fitzmaurice
Staff Writer

George Fitzmaurice is a staff writer at ITPro, ChannelPro, and CloudPro, with a particular interest in AI regulation, data legislation, and market development. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature, he undertook an internship at the New Statesman before starting at ITPro. Outside of the office, George is both an aspiring musician and an avid reader.