The bigger picture

Today, companies can implement virtualization across the IT infrastructure without management and security headaches by sticking to standards and designing with regard to overall business objectives. Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, N.C., is one such user.

The bank used DataSynapse’s GridServer as the basis for its enterprise-wide grid-computing architecture. From there, it implemented DataSynapse’s FabricServer to virtualize its Java applications, enabling it to reduce overall hardware and programming costs, resulting in seven-digit savings annually and at least a 300 per cent ROI (Wachovia earned a 2006 Enterprise All-Star Award for this project).

Wachovia looks at virtualization not as a tactic but as an overall business strategy, says Tony Bishop, senior vice president and director of product management at the bank. Bishop says he doesn’t get caught up in specifics such as server or storage virtualization. Instead, he says, the bank aims to virtualize demand and supply across the whole infrastructure, building what he calls a service-oriented infrastructure.

“Demand virtualization is at run-time when [a user or system] says, ‘Do this for me; calculate this for me; fetch this for me; look this up for me,'” Bishop says. “On the supply side, you need virtualization to give you the flexibility and control to abstract and alleviate any constraints of a hard-wired environment, so it lets you move stuff around and adjust, allocate or partition things based on efficiencies at run-time. FabricServer is the broker between the virtualized supply-and-demand environments, he says.

“FabricServer deals with the execution,” he says. “It recognizes who I am, what kind of service level I’m supposed to get and what kind of priority, and it gives me the right resources to fulfill that.”

This top-down approach lends itself to huge business efficiencies, Bishop says. “Very quickly, you see there are many business processes and systems that could leverage a virtualized environment like this,” he says. “If I can pick up and virtualize the movement of my processing to available capacity, wherever that is, I can alleviate bottlenecks, be more cost-effective, improve my performance or resiliency and so on.”

Because each service, be it on the demand or supply side, communicates with FabricServer in a standard rules-based way, managing performance is more straightforward. Plus, FabricServer brokers each service, thus ensuring strict security.

“FabricServer provides logical security. It acts as the logical controlling broker mechanism,” Bishop says. “It knows my profile, whether I’ve been authenticated, whether I’m entitled to get service, what I’m entitled to, and so on and so forth. It can even ensure the encryption of the message back and forth.”

The only drawback for Wachovia, Bishop says, is that the true, open standards for getting all the layers talking and working together aren’t ready yet. And, because “we’re not completely sure what the final ones will be, we’re relying on de facto standards, which I think bring you about two-thirds of the way there. It’s just something to keep an eye on,” he says.

In the end, organizations that want to reap the most benefits from virtualization can’t do it piecemeal, analysts and users say. “You can start small, with one particular application or by pooling a set of resources,” Bishop says. “But don’t stop there. If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t just play at it. Do your research, do your homework, but do it. If you go just halfway, you get in trouble, and you won’t get the gains of your investments.”

Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, Mass. She can be reached at [email protected].

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