In these cost-conscious times, enterprises are continually seeking ways to run their IT more efficiently. They are also focused on ensuring that future IT investment is clearly aligned to business need. Virtual infrastructure has been developed to meet today's business demand and is ideally suited to modern business processes - but what exactly is it?

Virtualisation itself is not new. If you talk to anyone involved in the mainframe industry, they will say that it has been happening as an IT process for over 20 years. In mainframe terms, it is about breaking computer systems up into virtual partitions and providing these partitions as separate and manageable systems to the users that need them. In today's terms, it is about running several operating systems on a single server by providing a layer of abstraction between the computing, storage and networking hardware, and the software that runs on it.

The concept joining the two is that of running several 'machines' on a single physical box. Virtual infrastructure sceptics may argue that individual servers already struggle to support the applications they run, so adding a wider range of applications to a single system is simply going to add to the problem. In reality, the reason multiple applications don't work well on a single box at the moment is that they all fight each other - they are not designed to work together. By removing this conflict and building a virtual layer, physical machines have the ability to run more efficiently and applications are not running against one another.

This virtual infrastructure architecture offers multiple business benefits. Primarily, it enables businesses to lower IT costs through increased efficiency, flexibility and responsiveness. For example, adopting VMware's virtual infrastructure can increase utilisation rates for Intel servers to 60-80 per cent, compared to today's 5-15 per cent. It also means provisioning times for new applications can be measured in minutes, rather than days.

Virtual infrastructure also allows enterprises to be hardware independent, a strong driver for procurement departments who are under pressure to buy hardware at best prices and therefore use a mix of suppliers.

In terms of resource allocation, virtual infrastructure provides a compelling argument because software is not tied to physical hardware, so resources can be deployed or moved quickly to the business units that need them. Response times for change requests can be reduced from hours to minutes, significantly reducing administration time and costs.

Virtual infrastructure is also an ideal solution for maintenance and disaster recovery. Operating systems can be moved around without shutting down hardware, as they can simply be 'dragged and dropped' like applications around the system. This process can take place without the end user being aware of any change, keeping uptime to a maximum. And disaster recovery departments no longer need to buy a complete replica set of hardware to move systems in the event of a disaster - all they need is a system with equal resource.

While the benefits of virtual infrastructure for the end user are unarguable, there is a strong need to educate the channel about the opportunities it can bring. As one of only two enterprise distributors of VMware's solution in the UK, Magirus recognises that there is a vast opportunity in uniting market demand with product availability. However, the challenge is that, at the moment, only a small number of resellers have the correct understanding and selling skills in this new area.

For resellers, virtual infrastructure provides an innovative route to market by allowing them to present a complex technology as a simple, one-box solution that allows companies to run their infrastructure in a more efficient and highly secure way. It is also a solution for which it is very easy to prove return on investment. As well as lowering costs and increasing responsiveness, it allows businesses to leverage the technologies they are already investing in, which is a strong attraction for those who have invested heavily in IT over the past few years.

While virtual infrastructure technology itself is relatively complex and does require a degree of training to realise the maximum benefits of the hardware, the potential benefits and margins for the resellers are high. Actual investment in training is low - typically, a four-day course and one exam is all that is required for resellers to understand the benefits that virtual infrastructure can offer their customers.

While minimal, this training is essential because the way that virtual infrastructure is sold is very different to traditional hardware or software selling. Training is tailored to help resellers think in a different way about the solution that virtual infrastructure offers - optimising infrastructure and making it work to the business's advantage, rather than simply adding more capacity.

So, with relatively little investment and great rewards to be reaped for those who are ready to bring this new solution to the market, virtual infrastructure offers a compelling new offering for resellers. It is therefore essential that the channel invests in training if it is to succeed in bringing the concept of virtualisation to the market and in adding a new route to customers in an increasingly competitive market.

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