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Leverage mobility and standardization for full virtualization benefits

To reap full virtualization benefits, a Forrester analyst recommends CIOs leverage two key, sometimes overlooked, attributes the technology offers.

Have CIOs hit a brick wall in capitalizing on the benefits of virtualization? sat down with Dave Bartoletti, senior analyst of infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research Inc., for a short refresher on how CIOs can leverage server virtualization benefits by moving beyond the technology's chief virtue -- consolidation.

To squeeze additional value from server virtualization, Bartoletti recommends focusing on two things: the mobility of virtual workloads and standardization. Here is a synopsis of his recommendations for thinking outside the box on virtualization benefits.

More efficient DR, more automation

That CIOs have embraced server virtualization is clear, said Bartoletti. Some 52% of the x86 servers in enterprise environments are virtualized, according to his firm's latest hardware survey of more 244 IT decision makers. By the end of this year that number is expected to climb as high as 75%. Saving on hardware costs has been the major motive for this mass migration to virtualization.

Desktop virtualization tightly linked to mobile

Once the server-side benefits of virtualization are reaped, the logical next target is the desktop. Virtualizing desktops, however, involves many moving parts, Bartoletti cautioned. The initial challenge for CIOs with desktop virtualization was rationalizing the hundreds of different types of mainly Windows-based desktops and laptops employees use. The starting point for desktop virtualization then was to reduce complexity by coming up with standard desktops for the enterprise's various classes of users: e.g., a virtual desktop template for the task worker, another template for the knowledge worker, and so on.

The new challenge comes from all the smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices employees use for work that are not running Windows operating systems, said Bartoletti. "Any desktop virtualization project should be tightly linked with the company's mobility strategy … [and] should probably be application-centric." At the data center level, the puzzle is how to achieve application performance at the lowest cost. "On the client side, challenge is much more about getting the right application to the right user with the right performance."

--Linda Tucci

By focusing on the mobility that virtualized servers allow, CIOs can reduce operating costs at the same time providing better protection for the data center. "The two biggest ways you extend the benefits of server virtualization is in disaster recovery and reducing operating costs through automation," Bartoletti said.

Virtualized workloads are easily moved, whether to another machine internally or to another machine in a remote facility. Instead of the traditional active/passive standby mode in traditional disaster recovery (DR) environments, virtualization allows for active/active environments, where some virtual workloads are running in both the primary and secondary locations.

"It really lets you take a fresh approach to disaster recovery planning, which used to be about renting a bunch of machines in a remote location where you could quickly spin up your environment in the event of a failure," he said. "In this way, you can keep a much smaller set of physical machines and just manage your virtual images and move them as needed."

CIOs can also save money by automating processes that are specifically designed for virtual machines (VMs). This includes building automated processes for "no-touch" allocations and provisioning of VMs. "If someone wants to request a virtual machine they just do it from a self-service interface that does not require an operator," Bartoletti said. Policy and authorization can be built into the work flows, to avoid the downside of such freedom -- VM sprawl. "In a virtual world, you need the automated tools to track who is using what and how much they are using," he stressed. The tools for that (nonexistent even five years ago) are getting better.

Standardizing VMs as a pathway to the cloud

CIOs can also keep VM sprawl in check is by embracing VM standardization, Bartoletti's second tip for maximizing virtualization benefits. Rather than installing custom servers for everyone, a la carte, CIOs should set a fixed menu of configurations allowed for VMs -- e.g., a Windows configuration that comes with corporate tools, a Linux configuration that comes with developer tools, and so on. "It reduces the amount of different configurations you are supporting and starts forcing the organization to adjust their requirements to what you are offering rather than the other way around," Bartoletti said. Standardizing not only saves on resources but paves the way to moving workloads to your own private cloud or to the public cloud, which supports a limited set of configurations.

"Virtualization really allows you to build a multi-tenancy environment, whether it is your own or in the cloud, because it isolates workloads from one another," he said. The technology enables IT departments to allocate costs more effectively back to business units and accustoms business users to the cloud model, which charges on consumption, not by the rental of a particular piece of hardware. Performance can be dialed up, or down, by adding virtual memory and more virtual processing power or storage to a VM.

Next Steps

Virtualization capacity management: The right tools rule 

storage strategy built with virtualization in mind 

Desktop virtualization deployment strategies and challenges 

Dig Deeper on Enterprise systems management

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