Virtualization gets sticky, clouds barely touched

A recent study on the operational aspects of virtualization, conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by CA Inc., finds organizations getting stuck in their virtualization efforts, and that management is the key to expansion.

One of the current trends seems to be that organizations are getting stuck at about 15 to 30 per cent of their servers virtualized, said Andi Mann, vice-president of product marketing at CA.

Data from the study suggests several reasons for this problem, including obtaining and retaining skills, security, capacity management, reconciling physical and virtual workflows, migrating workflows and virtual sprawl, he said.

When organizations get to that point where they have 15 to 30 per cent of their servers virtualized and deployed, they find themselves running out of people and unable to handle even routine management functions for their virtual systems, he said.

“What are normally routine management tasks in a physical environment (for the most part) are not as easy in the virtual environment. This is why we say that management is a real key for expanding virtualization,” said Mann.

The study, based on surveys of 257 IT professionals from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Japan, also found that most enterprises are “not yet prepared to make the leap to internal clouds.”  

While 34 per cent of respondents have either already evolved from virtualization to private clouds for some production workloads or plan to do so within the next six months, 66 per cent said they are not ready due to either funding obstacles, not trusting the technology or not enough maturity with virtualization.

CA sees virtualization as the foundation for cloud computing, said Mann. “It’s not the only thing that makes cloud computing, but it is certainly an important and probably critical part,” he said.

“The fundamental management of virtual machines, assuring that the service management element connects to the business priority and assuring that automation takes IT out of the routine operations and provides that sort-of self-service that cloud environments absolutely require” are a few of the things CA is doing to help organizations get to clouds from virtualization, he said.

The move from virtualization to clouds is a gradual process too, Mann added. “You can start with just managing your virtual machine, add automation to that, add service management to that, and all of a sudden, you are ending up with what looks a lot like a private cloud,” he said.

One of the seven key findings in the Virtualization Management and Trends study is that the move to internal clouds “requires changes to processes and automation management tools.”

“To attain this vision, the common model of IT service development and operations must be replaced. Process discipline, automation and self-service management tools, and organizational changes are inevitable. Without these improvements, internal clouds are impossible,” states the study.

Management is going to be a key challenge moving forward, which is why vendors like Microsoft, VMware, IBM, Computer Asssociates and HP are focusing on that management side, said David Senf, director of the Infrastructure Solutions Group at IDC Canada. “The discussion has moved off from the hypervisor and up into the management,” he said.

VM sprawl will be one of the top issues Canadian organizations are going to have to deal with, said Senf. It is important for firms to consider tools that allow for automation, workflow and consider the lifecycle of a VM, he said. 

“We already have more virtual machines than we do physical servers and that number is going to be many times the number of physical servers very quickly. The management challenges around that increase exponentially as the number of virtual machines also increases,” he said.

It is not uncommon to have a firm with 15 or more virtual machines running on one server, said Senf. “The average size of a server box in this country continues to grow quite rapidly compared to the overall number of servers that are shipping into the marketplace,” he said.

Almost seven out of 10 medium-sized firms and more than eight out of 10 large firms are using server virtualization, according to IDC Canada research. One-third of servers are virtualized in large firms and close to two out of five of servers are virtualized in medium firms.

The mid-market number is higher because there are fewer physical servers than large firms, so when they start to deploy virtual servers, that percentage of the total physical servers grows higher quickly, said Senf.

The No. 1 barrier to virtualization is cost, which is “typical” for most technologies, said Senf. The No. 2 barrier  for virtualization is training, he said.

IDC Canada Research also shows that roughly one-quarter of Canadian firms place a strategic importance on cloud computing. Senf doesn’t anticipate this number rising substantially in the next five years. “It would surprise me if it would hit 50 per cent,” he said. 

“Firms are not going to place a high strategic value on clouds moving forward. It’s going to be another tool in the toolbox that they use to get the job of getting IT done,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity, though, to think about the delivery of IT and the cost of IT around the cloud and to take that to a strategic level.”  

“Enterprises heading in the direction of internal cloud need to address several areas: storage, bandwidth, management and capacity,” said Laura Hansen-Kohls, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., in an e-mail interview.

“Scalable shared storage is the critical foundation of the internal cloud, so make sure you have enough in place. Ethernet is good enough, but look to 10 Gigabit Ethernet to open the possibility of a converged network to carry data and storage traffic on one wire. Finally, management and capacity planning for the internal cloud needs to be unified; think ‘software mainframe,’” she continued.

“Fragmenting management among traditional storage, server, and network silos is complex and inefficient. Focus on the total cost of the infrastructure and on building a reserve capacity model. Imagine capacity like a gas gauge. Capital purchases are driven not by individual workloads, but the need to maintain reserve capacity (enough gas to get home),” she said.

The CA/Forrester study includes seven key findings, but what was most interesting to Mann is what the study revealed about skill levels. “Skills availability and resource availability for virtualization is probably the No. 1 challenge that organizations are facing … This is not one of the specific seven, but it touches on all of them,” he said.

“The big takeaway for me from this whole survey is how we really need to keep hammering at making IT people more effective in what they are doing, getting them away from firefighting and routine operations and getting them into strategic operations that are going to drive business rather than just keep business running,” said Mann.

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