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Virtualization: SMBs go all the way

Research shows larger companies are more willing to experiment with virtualization. But smaller companies, if they give it a chance, are more likely to take full advantage of it. Once SMBs give in, they go all the way.

Large companies are more likely to dabble in virtualization. But small companies are more likely to commit their entire infrastructure to the technology, positioning themselves for more flexibility and rapid growth.

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Matt Brudzynski, senior research analyst at London, Ontario-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc., said his firm found that IT departments at smaller companies, when given the green light to try virtualization, have few impediments to going all the way. Complexity prevents larger companies from virtualizing their entire infrastructure.

In a recent survey of 1,500 IT professionals, Info-Tech determined that more than 80% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have adopted or plan to adopt virtualization. Smaller companies are less likely to try the technology. About 55% of companies with 101 to 500 employees adopted or planned to adopt. Among companies with 100 or fewer employees the percentage drops to nearly 25%.

However, Brudzynski interviewed executives at 35 companies about how much of their infrastructure was virtualized. He found smaller companies were making larger commitments.

"The initial assumption was that small and medium companies just aren't using it," Brudzynski said. "But when we delved into it we found that, sure, larger companies have a larger adoption rate because they all dabble in it. But because of political complexity and risk aversion, on average only 10% of their infrastructure is virtualized."

Brudzynski said the smaller companies he interviewed tended to take more of an "all-or-nothing" approach to the technology. "They look at all the x86 [servers] that can be consolidated. Small companies that consolidate 60% or 70% of their servers have the ability to dynamically manage resources across all servers. These are the companies that, when we talked to them, gain not only the tangible benefits of saving quite a bit in hardware costs. But they're also able to take advantage of more of the feature, or intangible, benefits of virtualization -- manageability and flexibility."

Brudzynski said system administrators at small and medium-sized companies have multiple duties. When they can consolidate the amount of hardware they need to manage through virtualization, they can work more efficiently and focus on more important tasks. Brudzynski said he saw evidence of this in three smaller companies he interviewed for his research. All three grew by 50% over a couple of years but they did not have to increase their head count in IT thanks in part to virtualization.

When George White became CIO for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in early 2005, he found an antiquated infrastructure and faced an expensive upgrade.

"We had 130 standalone servers with standalone disk arrays. We had no SAN at that time. A lot of our technology was end of life, and a lot of our equipment was due for lease termination. We needed to do something to take a much more efficient approach to handling our storage needs. But we also wanted more flexibility and better performance as we took on more complex initiatives."

White used virtualization to consolidate from 130 outdated servers to 40 blade servers. He also moved his storage to a NetApp FAS 3050 in his Harrisburg, Pa., headquarters and maintains a mirror storage system on a FAS 3020 offsite.

"The combination of our virtualized server environment and what we did with NetApp has completely overhauled our entire back-end infrastructure," White said. "We not only have the performance capabilities we need, but we are also positioned for long-term growth."

CIOs at large organizations often find they lack the clout to virtualize such a large part of their infrastructure.

"In larger companies… depending on the division of the company you'll have particular lines of business owning hardware," Brudzynski said. "You have business much more involved in infrastructure decisions because they fund IT. If IT wants to make an infrastructure change, they have to go to the business and explain why it makes sense. You have to explain why it's worthwhile. It's certainly not futile, but it is difficult. Comfort with virtualization isn't there yet."

At the attorney general's office, Miller didn't face resistance from the lines of business. Although the office has more than 1,000 employees, IT is highly centralized. Miller noted that most of the organization is made up of attorneys and law enforcement agents.

"Their mind-set is, 'Technology is for you guys to deal with. We're going to rely on your expertise with these products and trends,'" Miller said.

Miller said virtualizing his entire infrastructure has given him "ultimate flexibility."

"Whenever we need to ramp up a new [virtual] server we can do it in minutes," Miller said. "In the past it took us weeks, because we would have to go out and purchase a whole new server [box]. Now we have so much capacity and flexibility we can do it in a mater of minutes."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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