This is a guest post from Sam Diaz of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Sam on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

I sat down with a group of execs from NetIQ during a break from the VMWorld show yesterday. They wanted to talk about the company, which offers a lineup of software products for improving IT processes, and its role in the virtual world, specifically process automation.

But what was interesting about the conversation was the idea that virtualization – which is considered by some to be the holy savior of the IT industry – could also have some downsides. Mind you, the benefits still seem to outweigh those downsides over the long term but the points that the execs raised as we were talking about challenges of a virtual environment were worth pondering.

One of the messages that Paul Maritz, CEO of VMWare, was trying to drive home in his Tuesday morning keynote speech was the idea that virtualization reduces complexity, lowers costs and increases efficiency. Those are all true statements – but let’s not forget that, with anything new, there is bound to be some level of complexity, at least an initial investment and likely some stumbling blocks for those working hands-on in the new environment.

As an example, we talked about security. Complexity, the NetIQ execs said, is the enemy of security. If an enterprise moves into a virtual environment, there still needs to be some structure and important pieces of the puzzle can’t get lost in the shuffle. Policies still need to be enforced. Access still needs to be managed. Some documents housed on virtual servers someplace will still need to be retained for compliance purposes.

VMWare addresses some of those concerns with the launch of vCenter, which was announced this week. From what I’ve been able to tell (with just a quick review of the offerings), the VMWare offerings automate some of the processes of the virtual data center. But the NetIQ offerings seem to automate the processes of the company, not just the data center.

The NetIQ folks were talking up their automation services so, of course, they had a “solution” for the problem. They see some of the growing pains within the virtual world being addressed through automated processes, such as putting expiration dates on some documents while marking others as do-not-delete files or automatically e-mailing a manager when his approval is needed – and automatically e-mailing him again (as well as his supervisor) when there’s no response after so many hours or days.

A company that’s going to invest in a virtual environment is going to want to see some sort of short-term ROI. Spending is tight in this economy and an expenditure on something that’s supposed to reduce costs and increase efficiencies is going to have to show some short-term results. No one is going to want to hear about the implementation problems because compliance issues have slowed things down.

In a warped kind of way, the recession turned out to be a great driver of innovation and, specifically, helped companies like VMWare and Salesforce to push the benefits of virtualization and cloud computing into conversations across companies of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Still, just because you take something into the virtual world doesn’t mean you eliminate the safeguards of protecting the company and its data. Automating the mundane and redundant – albeit mission-critical – processes does more than just free up the time of an employee who might instead work on some innovative, money-saving idea. It also ensures that adoption of technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing maintains its momentum.