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Lack of virtualization know-how resulting in failed projects

Implementing virtualization technology can be costly and painful -- even more so if your IT staff can't grasp the skills necessary to deploy and manage it.

Many businesses are deploying virtualization technology without having the skills in place to manage it properly. As a result, there are a lot of CIOs with failed virtualization project on their hands.

According to a new study from Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), of 150 IT managers polled who had deployed virtualization, only 47% said they had sufficient skills within their company to manage virtualization.

"Virtualization essentially requires an entirely new skill set," EMA's Andi Mann said. "When you're talking about deploying a physical environment like Unix, you need a Unix manager and then you deploy applications on top of that. When you do virtualization you still need all that, but you need virtualization skills as well: How to connect networks virtually as well as physically, and how to connect storage virtually as well as physically."

Mann said CIOs who are adopting virtualization need to do a skills audit. He said they should also work with their vendors and with consultants to determine what skills are going to be needed.

When it comes to acquiring those skills, Mann said it doesn't necessarily make sense to hire new staff. "That's always going to be a case-by-case corporate decision. If I were a corporate manager I would need a compelling case to acquire more people. Virtualization should reduce your overall workload. Frankly, I think [existing IT staff] wants to learn these skills because it makes them better IT people."

But training alone won't get you there.

"Training and skills are two different things," Mann said. "The training itself probably takes a week or less. It's not so different from any new technology. But having skills -- such as problem diagnosing, configuration management, and capacity planning -- takes experience. And that can take up to six months to acquire."

Ron Terry, an advanced technical trainer at Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc., said companies adopting virtualization can sometimes neglect employee training.

"I definitely think education and training is one of those things that is maybe overlooked so many times," Terry said. "Your people are so busy doing their day-to-day job that maybe they don't have time to research and download the critical mass of knowledge that will allow them to go out and work on it on their own, to keep propelling themselves forward."

Terry said companies that neglect training risk seeing virtualization underutilized or misused.

"They've been told you've got this new technology that will give you all these great benefits. Then when they implement it people bang their heads against the wall trying to make it work," Terry said. "It's time lost and money lost. People who don't know how to run something, who don't understand the concepts of what virtualization brings, are not going to implement it correctly and cause problems."

Chris Barclay, director of product management at Lowell, Mass.-based Virtual Iron Software Inc., a provider of data center virtualization technology, said getting virtualization up and running can be painful.

"Configuration management databases, people are just now getting their heads around how to do that in the physical world," Barclay said. "Now we have to learn how to do it in the virtual world. Virtualization gives us flexibility. But with flexibility comes pain. If someone wants to take a server down for maintenance, who do you contact? In the past you just contact one person. But in the virtual world you might have 20 people making use of that server."

It takes a little bit of time to get your head around everything.

Jim Jones, network administrator, WTC Communications

Jim Jones, a network administrator at WTC Communications Inc., said, "It takes a little bit of time to get your head around everything." Wamego, Kansas-based WTC, a small, rural telecommunications company, recently adopted VMware Inc.'s Virtual Infrastructure 3, software that virtualizes servers, storage devices and networks.

Jones and WTC's system administrator -- the 25-person company's two IT staff members -- took a weeklong training course with Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMWare before deciding whether to adopt virtualization. Jones said they wanted to learn what it takes to manage the technology.

Jones said preparing to manage virtualization goes beyond the classroom. Staff members must also learn to think differently.

"You have to be able to visualize everything and standard network diagramming practices are out the window," Jones said.

Jones said a lack of virtualization expertise within a business should not dissuade CIOs from adopting virtualization technologies.

"Heck no, that's not an excuse not to do it," Jones said. "That's like an ostrich putting its head in the sand. This is a new technology that's going to revolutionize the industry. Soon, they're going to have to do it. In five years you're not going to be able to run a server with just one operating system. We're already seeing servers ship with virtual Linux built in."

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