Virtualization realism reigns at IT360 conference

If you want to get the top executives excited about getting on the virtualization bandwagon, you have to be careful what you choose to virtualize first, according to the head of a VMware user group.

In a trend that’s been seen at nearly every technology conference recently, server virtualization took centre stage during this week’s IT 360 conference. But instead of a showcase of what virtualization can do, the panel discussion centred on making sure new virtualization adopters take a realistic approach to their migration – and ultimately win over the boardroom in the process.

According to Scott Elliott, senior systems network specialist at Christie Digital Systems Inc. and the leader of the Southwest Ontario VMware User Group, ensuring that C-level executives see the benefits of virtualization – especially just a few months into deployment – might just have a significant impact on their IT budgets in the future.

And further evidence that the “higher ups” finally have virtualization on the radar screen occurred earlier this year, when the technology was featured in the popular workplace satire Dilbert cartoon strip. The comic strip had Dilbert’s boss asking the cartooned office worker why the company’s server virtualization is taking so long.

“When the pointy-haired boss knows about virtualization, it’s pretty significant,” Elliot said.

For IT managers looking to avoid constant nagging from their bosses, Elliot said, they should consider starting with a limited server virtualization deployment. This means only virtualizing some of your company’s limited production applications, and as Elliott called them, your “IT only” servers such as RADIUS, internal Web applications and print servers.

“At this level you can do some smart IT spending instead of investing too much at the start,” he said. “To get around the resistance from those server huggers in your office, aim for early successes with limited deployments.

“This will also provide a huge benefit in building your in-house skills sets. It helps your IT staff get sold on the technology down the road.” Andrew Hillier, co-founder and CTO at Richmond Hill, Ont.-based server virtualization firm CiRBA Inc., was another panelist at the virtualization event and said that an equally important factor in getting started right is knowing how your virtualized servers perform.

CiRBA’s data center analysis software brings together configuration information, business attributes and utilization data of servers, representing them as a three-dimensional cube and finding opportunities to optimize their use through virtualization or consolidation.

In regards to server utilization, Hillier said, having a diverse set of workloads is ideal to ensure that your systems never slowdown or get overloaded.

“A workload that is doing almost nothing every hour, but peaking up for just a few minutes has to be dealt with differently that a workload with more sustained activity,” Hillier said.

The tricky part when you’re looking to optimize your virtualized servers, according to Hillier, is to find the right balance between diversity of workload and consistency of configuration.

“So putting a peaky workload on the same server as another peaky workload would work out, and you’d only have to look at the odds of them ever hitting each other,” Hillier said.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to trying to lower the risks of server slowdowns and finding the best way to balance your workloads in order to achieve this. And it’s virtualization advice like this, according to both Elliott and Hillier, which would make the Pointy-Haired Boss get off Dilbert’s case.

IT 360 continues on Wednesday.

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