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Behind the hype: 10 facts to help you sort out virtualization benefits

Industry pundits would like you to believe that virtualization has become the new normal. After all, more workloads are now running on virtual machines than physical

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ones, according to VMware Inc. CEO Paul Maritz. Of course, when it comes to virtualization penetration, companies are all over the map -- some have virtualized everything they can, while others are still waiting for the fad to pass. Often, you hear conflicting messages from your cohorts, and it becomes nearly impossible to get a baseline opinion. With so many voices in the virtualization space, the fanciful claims become even more difficult to swallow.

Scott Lowe

Regardless of where you are in your virtualization journey, I have come to realize that there are 10 incontrovertible facts with which you must come to grips in order to sort out the virtualization benefits from the backfires:

Fact 1: Virtualization will save you money. It's a known fact that server consolidation based on virtualization will save you money, at least in the long run. After all, there are fewer servers, less hardware to cool and less energy consumption in the data center. CIOs can bank on virtualization ROI from many angles, as long as they are patient and wait for the savings to filter down to the bottom line.

Fact 2: Virtualization won't save you money. You can't use cost savings as the singular metric to measure the success of a virtualization initiative. That line of thinking is short-sighted. With a properly architected virtual environment, organizations can enjoy additional business benefits -- new availability mechanisms and enhanced backup and recovery capabilities, among others. These benefits do come with a price tag, though. As such, you might not enjoy the savings you expect if you're comparing against a simple server consolidation scenario. Plan to spend what it takes to get the virtualization benefits you really want and need.

Fact 3: Virtualization will simplify your workload. With less hardware to manage, it stands to reason that your administrators will need to support fewer devices. Deploying a new workload becomes surprisingly easy and fast. There's no more need to provision -- on a workload-by-workload basis -- brand-new hardware, rack it and then configure it from the ground up. Your virtual environment will take a lot of the hard work off your hands and might result in a reduction of your IT staff.

Fact 4: Virtualization will add complexity to your workload. Remember back when a server was just a server? Maintaining each individual server required a finite skill set that was specific to that server and maybe some network connections. In today's complex virtual environments, administrators must take a holistic look at the infrastructure to resolve problems. Virtualization requires formerly disparate teams -- systems, networking and storage -- to work as a cohesive whole.

Fact 5: The only virtualization platform you should consider is VMware. According to Veeam Software’s V-index, as of this writing, VMware enjoys 58.2% of the hypervisor market. Citrix Systems Inc. holds 20.2%, and Microsoft’s Hyper-V accounts for 18.6% of the market. Why would you choose anything else? VMware boasts the greatest feature set by far, and the delta is vast between VMware's vSphere hypervisor and the competition. In many places, VMware has become the de facto hypervisor standard. Additionally, the company is always releasing new products that complement and extend the hypervisor to bring new virtualization benefits.

Fact 6: You should consider all platforms before settling on one. VMware carries with it what many consider to be extravagant -- and growing -- costs. Further, with its latest release and the introduction of what the company calls vRAM (virtual RAM), VMware has added a new dimension and costs to the licensing equation. Besides the direct cost, consider the feature needs of your organization. Does the Hyper-V feature set absolutely meet your company’s needs? Before you simply take the VMware plunge, consider the competition, do a full needs analysis and pick the hypervisor that meets your needs and budget.

Fact 7: Server sprawl will be a thing of the past. As you undertake massive server consolidation projects and achieve significant consolidation ratios (V-index.com suggests that there are six virtual servers per physical host, although anecdotally, I've seen ratios that are much higher) you'll contain the future deployment of physical servers throughout your organization. As you deploy new services, you no longer need to buy a brand-new server for each task -- simply deploy services to your existing virtual hosts.

Fact 8: Server sprawl will be worse than ever. Although physical server sprawl is a thing of the past, virtual server sprawl will become a major problem. At least physical server sprawl could be controlled through the purchasing process. Virtual server sprawl is much more difficult to contain due to how quickly new virtual servers can be deployed en masse. Organizations need to take proactive steps by creating processes, procedures and authorizations for new virtual machines.

Fact 9: Virtualization is just a fad. Even recently, I heard about an IT director with a substantial server infrastructure who eschewed virtualization because of all of its downsides. He considered virtualization a passing fad and wasn't interested in "jumping on the bandwagon" just to save a few bucks. He's right. There’s a trendy nature to virtualization. In its current form, virtualization won't last, but then again, the whole concept of virtualization has changed since it was introduced. Every technological cycle in IT has had some element of "fad" to it.

Fact 10: Virtualization is here to stay. Virtualization is the next logical progression in the IT cycle. While many virtualization initiatives began as simple ways to reduce hardware costs, virtual infrastructures have now become the norm and provide many more benefits than ever could have been considered at the technology's inception. No, virtualization won't be going anywhere, but it will be augmented and extended with other solutions and technologies. The day is coming -- and may already be here -- when organizations will move workloads seamlessly between on- and off-premises sites, between hot and cold data centers and between companies with administrative ease and complete transparency to the user. This workload abstraction concept simply provides too many benefits for organizations to not use it in some form.

You may have noticed one or two contradictory statements in my list. That's because when it comes to approaching virtualization on any level, you should take what you know and turn it inside out, whether it's simple server virtualization or an elegant desktop virtualization solution. Virtualization doesn't completely throw away what you know, but it does change it. Rethink how you run IT and keep an open mind regarding all of the possible virtualization benefits. The biggest incontrovertible fact of them all is that there is no single right answer that applies to every scenario.

Scott Lowe is CIO of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com or tt@slowe.com.

This was first published in October 2011

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