Virtualisation out of the frying pan, into the fire?

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Resellers have noted the surge of interest in the potential for virtualisation of customers computing environments but can this technology deliver help the channel deliver a step change in performance? Or could it lead to over-the-top expectations from users and cause as many new operational issues as it solves? 

Rational approach

While virtualisation has existing in some shape or form for decades, theres no denying that the IT industry, which has traditionally placed emphasis on functionality - to the exclusion of a machines efficiency - is thinking again. With growing concerns over energy costs and widespread evidence of apparent global warming, there has been all-consuming interest in software that enables companies to rationalise data centre and server footprints. Why continue to add one server per application when you can operate hundreds of applications in virtual environments from that one machine?

With so many companies, under daily pressure to keep the lights on having built their computing infrastructures in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, there are many organisations that are running expensive infrastructures at only 20-30 per cent of capacity. With the rise of the green agenda, many companies are looking not only for greater capacity utilization but improved performance and reduced data centre space and utility costs. Virtualisation is not simply a rational approach, it is being touted as green as well.  Its not surprising that in this wave of enthusiasm, UK companies see a route to drastically reducing their computing infrastructure management and costs.  Many believe that if virtualisation is correctly handled, mushrooming servers, so often under-utilised and unpredictable, maintenance costs could well become a thing of the past.

Market potential

This growing markets potential for resellers is certainly exciting. Analysts IDC have predicted that the virtualisation software market will grow from US$810 million in 2007 to around US$1.8 billion in 2009. Last year it was estimated that 80 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies had deployed virtualization technologies in their business. Where the largest companies go, others follow: IDC also estimated that by 2011 half of all physical servers will have been virtualised. Its estimated that only 4 per cent of servers run virtualisation software, so the potential is huge.

Wheres the strategy?

However, IT services provider Centiq believes that organisations could be swapping one management problem for another without adequate consideration of virtualisation within a business wider performance needs and strategic consideration of infrastructure management. Worse, companies that rush to virtualise applications could even be exposing themselves to greater resilience issues for particular services and wider business continuity risks around the companys infrastructure.

The risks?

Centiq says that resellers and their UK business must accept that virtualisation needs to be organised as a strategic component in existing performance and business needs. Resellers must therefore help their client organisations to examine key business and operational factors and constraints before recommending a virtualisation strategy and roll out. These factors could include:

         The real route for businesses to become more responsive and rationalise their infrastructures - is based on a high level risk management process: aligning IT infrastructures to business needs and deploying technologies or rationalising existing ones.

         Does the organisation know which applications are suitable for virtualisation? Those running Internet services may require in-built redundancy to handle peak demand and may not work effectively in a virtualised environment.

         Understand the potential of virtualised environments with higher availability, easier remote working, etc. will IT functions provide new services to internal users but unwittingly jeopardise core processes in doing so.

         Gain a picture of ongoing cost of ownership issues: it may be tempting to quickly build a virtualisation strategy for a customer that is demanding a smaller footprint and greener data centre operations. However, the duty is on the IT provider to consider the running costs of new infrastructure management software against phased rationalisation of servers and applications. A sweeping shift to virtual environments could lead to a sudden increase in licensing costs. If applications are move to virtual environments in an unstructured way, who will be keeping a central record of machines and appropriate licensing arrangements? This could lead to requests for greater resources for management and monitoring and longer term compliance issues.

         Security is a key area for scrutiny. Organisations need to be sure that existing security processes, patch management systems and infrastructure monitoring systems are able to accommodate virtualised machines. If there are input and output communications to a virtual server will they reach the rest of the physical network?

         Businesses that intend to virtualise multiple applications must assess the risks. If a number of servers or a whole data centre is lost, the organisation may have not service resilience. Can SLAs be maintained?  What is the fall back position with customers? Is there a business continuity system, with operations mirrored elsewhere, in place?

 
Containing risk

Centiq says that rushing to virtualise environments is like adding a new boiler with additional radiators in a modern house where energy efficiency could be boosted beforehand. Just as the organisation should consider the overall demands of the computing environment before migrating applications to virtual machines, so the householder might gain from better insulation of the building before an expensive new boiler is added. In the same way, a heating engineer provides the householder with an energy report and recommendations for the house as a whole, so the IT reseller must help the C-level executive and IT manage alike understand their business goals and performance targets from their IT infrastructure.

Migrate, Optimise and Measure

Large or small organisations must ask their IT provider to measure the performance of their computing environments. This means from the outset, undertaking risk assessment and application performance monitoring. Before virtualising applications IT teams should know the value of, and be tiering and migrating excessive data that potentially could undermine performance or business responsiveness. Business must ensure that infrastructures are then optimised using virtualisation where feasible in conjunction with other technologies while continuing to measure and monitor application performance.

This combination of a strategic approach and optimisation processes will help businesses understand virtualisation and when to use it. Without it, companies with already costly IT environments could be rushing headlong into increasingly complex infrastructure management issues, bringing greater pressure on resources and spiralling costs. 


About Centiq

Centiq is a leading IT services provider that focuses on premium-level IT consulting, architecture, design and implementation services. It is one of the UKs fastest growing private technology companies in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 listing.

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