The virtualization of human beings has already happened

If servers could talk, I wonder if they would see virtualization as a sort of employee downsizing. A headline from Computerworld U.S. today made my head spin for a moment: Forget desktop virtualization, here comes user virtualization. The story turned out to be about a software tool to manage individual desktop instances in a virtualized environment, but it was an interesting way to rethink virtualization as a metaphor describing the workforce realignments that have invaded the enterprise amid this downturn. Virtualization, after all, is a way to make one piece of hardware to act like several pieces of hardware – to do more with less. And human beings have been forced to do the same in even greater numbers. Look around your office today and you’ll likely see coworkers who have been “virtualized” into juggling what was once the role of several people. As with servers, we often talk about increasing utilization rates – or in more layman’s terms, pushing people to their fullest potential. As IT managers are slowly learning, of course, virtualization is not a magic formula and in fact causes some other challenges, an area we touched on in a Webinar I hosted about virtualization last week. And these compare to what we see in staffing situations as well. To wit:Virtualization leads to virtual spawl: You can take a lot of physical servers out of your data centre, but you sometimes end up with the difficult task of keeping track of the virtual servers that are loaded on to each machine. This includes when it was turned on, what it’s for and what the compute load is like. Virtualized workforces may see a team of four doing the work of 10, but it’s not always clear who is tackling what, how they should work together and who to track down when something goes wrong. Sometimes in the process of human virtualization, a few deadlines just slip through the cracks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen with poorly-managed virtual servers. Not everything is properly configured for virtualization: You need to check your applications, among other things, before shutting down the old servers. This kind of due diligence often gets missed when employees are laid off and it is assumed that those left behind are trained and ready to take on the other tasks. There’s no point in virtualizing for efficiency if your performance sags, whether you’re talking about enterprise infrastructure or employees. Memory sometimes creates a bottleneck: Recent conversations with virtualization experts have highlighted the I/O problems that sometimes impede virtual servers from reaching the utilization rates that IT managers expected. In the same way, people who are take on multiple jobs aren’t always able to keep all their projects, deadlines, or stakeholders straight (confession: I am one of these people). With servers, of course, you can sometimes add more memory. The best human beings can hope for is a better calendaring system. Virtualization doesn’t mean you’ll never spend money again: Companies are realizing they still need to purchase a box if, for example, they deem a certain application or process too mission-critical to run in a virtual environment. HR departments also recognize that even during the coldest hiring freezes, an extra body may be necessary to reach the company’s objectives. I can’t think of any trend that’s been more popular in the IT industry over the last couple of years than virtualization. I’d love if human virtualization became a little less popular.

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