The concept of virtualization has been applied to more and more information systems technologies since IBM prototyped its CP/CMS operating system in the 1960’s. Over time the technology has evolved and matured. Today, it has clearly hit a tipping point. More organizations than ever before are giving the technology a look, encouraged by the prospect of reduced costs, infrastructure optimization, and greater application rollout efficiency. So much so that the overall virtualization services market is expected to reach $11.7 billion in 2011, more than doubling its $5.5 billion value in 2006, according to IDC research.
But the notion of virtualization as a cost-saver is not universally shared. Some claim it doesn’t always live up to its promises. Yet the industry abounds in examples of successful deployments, demonstrating that with the right approach, the technology can reap benefits.
To understand the role of virtualization in the IT environment it’s important to look beyond perceptions and expectations. Decision makers may be drawn to the potential bottom-line benefits, but may not consider how the solution to one set of challenges can, in the process, create new ones. As a result, they attribute unforeseen pain points to the technology itself, not the approach.
Virtualization has the potential to help businesses overcome operational inefficiencies, but only when their IT infrastructure is ready and has the resources required to make the implementation a success. Taking a holistic approach to the technology during the planning and pre-deployment stages puts businesses in a better position to make more informed decisions about the solution and to ensure that the foundations for success are in place.
A DELICATE BALANCE
The IT ecosystem is complex. The addition of any new application or server has a ripple effect, and the implementation of virtualization is no different. The IT industry has done a great deal to educate businesses about the challenges virtualization can solve, but less to engender a deeper understanding of its impact on their IT environment.
Take server consolidation. Most agree that virtualization helps pave the way to fewer physical servers. The disconnect, however, is in what server consolidation means to the bottom line. From an objective standpoint, server virtualization and the management information it offers can provide CIOs with an optimized datacentre. For example, are all the servers, processors, licenses, and disk resources being used to full capacity? Is the system load well balanced for performance, interoperability and scalability? This is just a sample of questions businesses can answer with a virtualized datacentre.
With fewer physical servers, costs related to hardware, energy and licensing will naturally decrease. As a result, organizations can optimize resources by leveraging the information virtualization often yields. Critics, however, suggest that there is some level of hidden cost attached to managing the virtualized datacentre. How should CIOs interpret this?
Consolidation appears deceptively simple. Fewer physical servers translate to less-intensive maintenance requirements. But just because servers can’t be seen does not mean they don’t require support. Virtualization can help business manage its hardware footprint, but who will manage the technology itself?
THE RIGHT SUPPORT
Managing and maintaining a virtualized datacentre network requires special knowledge, and this is where some organizations can run into challenges. For example, an IT department may be tempted to cut the amount of server support in the belief that those resources will no longer be necessary, when, in fact, virtual servers do need close monitoring.
The problems can become compounded when a virtual server network and the resources needed to support the network grow. This additional and often unforeseen layer of complexity is referred to as virtual machine sprawl.
A holistic approach to planning and deployment can overcome these challenges. For example, by identifying upfront the impacts virtualization will have on a company’s IT ecosystem, CIOs can allocate sufficient internal resources, refine their processes to address these impacts, and take the cost of this into their forecasts.
Businesses should reduce their risk by mapping out overall operational requirements before a solution is purchased. Since some vendors provide a complete suite of technologies that enable an integrated, end-to-end virtualized infrastructure, it can be tempting to buy without looking closely at all the alternatives, assuming all the solutions work equally well in every context. It pays to investigate the applicability of third-party solutions or systems-management software to your context.
The bottom line is that virtualization can indeed lower server costs, reduce sprawl and address IT continuity require-ments if all factors are considered – and planned for – from the outset.
GREENING THE SERVER ROOM
Virtualization has gained particular momentum at a time when the environment is a number-one public concern. Many organizations are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints by evaluating everything from internal operations to how they can offer more eco-friendly products and services. In IT circles, virtualization is seen as a stepping stone to a greener IT infrastructure. With fewer physical servers, a business can reduce costs related to electricity and cooling.
Virtualization is also effective at enabling remote accessibility, fostering an environment that makes it easier for employees to work from home and therefore reduce the time they spend in their cars.
Now imagine this: a business decides the fastest way for its IT network to go green is by implementing virtualization. The primary goal of deployment is achieving environmental benefits, and any other benefits realized in the process (e.g. resource optimization, server consolidation) are viewed as secondary. The company implements the solution without examining its current infrastructure and does not adequately prepare the network to support it. To their surprise, they discover they now need to invest in additional resources such as more bandwidth. They did not plan for this ahead of time and are faced with costs and resource requirements that they did not anticipate.
If going green is the primary objective, consider enlisting the aid of resellers and consultants within the channel during the planning stage. Experts can share valuable insights about virtualization and identify how each business can use the technology to its fullest potential. Put simply, experts can shed light on how the technology’s additional benefits, aside from its green credentials, can be applied to each unique IT ecosystem.
Virtualization is definitely part of an environmental sustainability solution, but the chances for savings are maximized when a clear, detailed implementation plan is in place.
SECURITY, STABILITY AND SERVICE CONTINUITY