At this week's VMworld in San Francisco, the key annual event about virtualization and the cloud put on by VMware, lots of big-picture questions have emerged for enterprise Relevant Products/Services technology pros to mull over. VMworld 2013 is no niche talk-and-party circus. The questions are about genuine enterprise I.T. issues that affect how businesses invest in and profit from their tech operations.

Cloud computing and data centers are hot business topics and this week's deliberations will get interesting.

Beyond the networking, storage, and other product announcements at this year's VMworld, which started on August 25 and runs to August 29, are some compelling questions: What's the long-term fate of the data center? With more applications, more big data to sort than ever before, what is the data center going to look like and how does it address the mobile world? Where does old I.T. survive against the new breed of business road warriors? Last but not least, how will changes in server management affect the jobs of today's system administrators?

The show this year comes at a time when virtualization pioneer VMware continues to be on secure footing with a technology of considerable benefit to businesses.

Virtualization Growth

Virtualization lets one machine, typically a server, run multiple operating systems for flexibility and an easing up of hardware needs. Wikibon, a community of practitioners and consultants who share advisory knowledge, recently issued results of a survey concluding that server virtualization is not hitting a wall but instead is continuing to grow -- from 69 percent of servers virtualized today to an expected 84 percent in eighteen months.

"Generally, the overheads associated with virtualization have become minimal and are far outweighed in many workloads by other business benefits," according to Wikibon.

VMware at this week's show is making it clear that its vision for future data centers and I.T. overall is getting more ambitious, wrapped up in software-defined networking (SDN) and the software-defined data center.

What that means is that software is put to use to extend flexibility in data centers and computer networks, a trend embraced by makers of networking gear as well. VMware is looking ahead to a software-defined data center, where automation rules, using software-based management tools.

Ins and Outs of Safety

Beyond the show's optimistic talk about SDN, though, the concerns keeping information officers up at night are costs and security. Probably the most contentious issue regarding the way a business will run its operations in the future is what kind of model to choose. Should the business store critical data internally or release everything to the cloud?

Venture capitalist Mark Andreessen weighed in for the big questions on Monday, championing the cloud as the right way to go. He said the cloud will be seen as more stable than on-premises storage.

Andreessen also suggested that the cloud is already safer than most security environments. Any new business should consider going 100 percent cloud from the very start, he said, a trend that his firm, Andreessen Horowitz, sees with most startups in Silicon Valley.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger did not agree that in-house I.T. is less secure, saying no cloud service provider can escape government oversight. Gelsinger said, "People who say 'put everything into the cloud' have never met a highly regulated customer."

As for deployment models, Gelsinger advised that the hybrid cloud deployment model is the right path for most I.T. decision makers. A balance of private and public clouds offers a sound approach.

On Tuesday, VMware and Cisco announced that increasing numbers of customers have been using joint private clouds, data centers, and virtual desktop solutions from the two companies to improve on I.T. agility.