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A Strategic View of Virtualization

By Dana Gardner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Apr 6, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Virtualization has become imperative to enterprises as they better manage resources, cut total costs, reduce energy use and improve IT agility. However, virtualization is more than just installing hypervisors.

A Strategic View of Virtualization

The effects and impacts of virtualization cut across many aspects of IT operations. The complexity of managing virtualization IT runtime environments can easily slip out of control. A proper level of planning and management, however, can assure a substantive economic return on virtualization investments.

This podcast examines how virtualization can be applied as a larger process, with sufficient tools for governance that allow for rapid, but reasoned, virtualization adoption. Providing an in-depth look at how virtualization best practices make for the best economic outcome is Bob Meyer, the worldwide virtualization lead in HP's Technology Solutions Group. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner.

Listen to the podcast (34:30 minutes).

Dana Gardner: Virtualization is really becoming quite prominent, and we're even seeing instances now where the tough economic climate is accelerating the use and adoption of virtualization. This, of course, presents a number of challenges.

First, could you provide some insight, from HP's perspective, of how you see virtualization being used in the market now, and how that perhaps has shifted over the past six months or so?

Bob Meyer: When we talk about virtualization -- obviously it's been around for quite a long time -- it's typically the virtualization of Windows Servers where people start to think about it. For a couple of years now, that's been the hot value proposition within IT.

The allure there is that when you consider the percentage of budget spent on data center facilities, hardware, and IT operations management, virtualization can have a profound effect on all of these areas.

For the last couple of years, people have realized the value in terms of how it can help consolidate servers or how it can help do such things as backup and recovery faster. But now with the economy taking a turn for the worse, anyone who was on the fence, who wasn't sure, who didn't have a lot of experience with it, is now rushing headlong into virtualization. They realize that it touches so many areas of their budget, it just seems to be a logical thing to do in order for them to survive these economic times and come out a leaner, more efficient IT organization.

The change that we see is that previously virtualization was for very targeted use, and now it's gone to virtualization everywhere, for everything -- "How much can I put in and how fast can I put it in?"

... DG: For a lot of organizations, with many IT aspects or approaches these days, security and compliance need to be brought into the picture. What does this flexible virtualization capability mean, if you're in a business that has strict compliance and security oversights?

BM: Again, it produces its own set of challenges for the reasons similar to what we talked about before. Compliance has many different facets. If you have a service infrastructure that's in compliance today in a physical environment, it might take days to move that around and to change the components. People are likely to have much more visibility. That window of change tends to take a lot longer.

With virtualization, because of the speed, the mobility, and the ease of moving things around, things can come out of compliance faster. They could be out of regulatory compliance. They could be out of license compliance, because it's much easier to spin up new instances of virtual machines and much harder to track them.

So, the same blessing of speed and mobility and ease of instrumentation can take a hit on the compliance and security side as well. It's harder to keep up with patches. A lot of people do virtual machines through images. They'll create a virtual machine image, and once that image is created, that becomes a static image. You deploy it on one VM and then another and then another. Over time, patches come out, and those patches might not be deployed to that particular image. People are starting to see problems there as well.

DG: Just to throw another log on the fire of why this is a complex undertaking, we're probably going to be dealing with hybrid environments, where we have multiple technologies and multiple types of hypervisors. As you pointed out, the use of virtualization is creeping up beyond servers, through infrastructure storage, and so forth. What's the hurdle, when it comes to having these mixed and hybrid environments?

BM: That's a reality that we are going to be dealing with from here on out. Everybody will have a mix of virtual and physical environments. That's not a technology fad. That's just a fact. There will be services -- cloud computing, for example -- that will extend that model.

The reality is that the world we live in is both physical and virtual, when it comes to that infrastructure. To have to start looking at it from that perspective, you have to start asking, "Do I have the right solutions in place from an infrastructure perspective, from a management perspective, and from a process perspective to accommodate both environments?"

The danger is having parallel management structures within IT. It does no one any good. If you look at it as a means to an end, which virtualization is, the end of all this is more agile and cost-effective services and more agile and cost-effective use of infrastructure.

Just putting a hypervisor on a machine doesn't necessarily get you virtualization returns. It allows you to virtualize, but it has to be put on the construct of what you're trying to do. You're trying to provide IT-enabled services for the business at better economies of scale, better agility, and low risk, and that's the construct that we have to look at.


DG: One last area, Bob. I want to get into the benefits of managed virtualization as insurance for the future. You mentioned cloud computing a little earlier. If you do this properly, you start moving toward what we call "on-premises" or "private clouds." You create a fabric of storage, or a fabric of application support, or a fabric of platform infrastructure support. That's where we get into some of those even larger economic benefits.

This is a vision for many people now, but doing virtualization right seems to me like a precursor to being able to move toward that. You might even be able to start employing SOA (service-oriented architecture) more liberally, and then take advantage of external clouds, and there is a whole vision around that. Am I correct in assuming that virtualization is an initial pillar to manage, before you're able to start realizing any of that vision?

BM: Certainly. The focus right now is, "How does it save me money?" But the longer-term benefit, the added benefit, is that at some point, the economy will turn better, as it always does. That will allow you to expand your services and really look at some of the newer ways to offer services. We mentioned cloud computing before. It will be about coming out of this downturn more agile, more adaptable, and more optimized.

No matter where your services are going -- whether you're going to look at cloud computing or enacting SOA now or in the near future -- it has that longer-term benefit of saying, "It helps me now, but it really sets me up for success later."

We fundamentally believe, and CIOs have told us a number of times, that virtualization will set them up for long-term success. They believe it's one of those fundamental technologies that will separate their company as winners going into any economic upturn.

DG: So, making virtualization a core competency, sooner rather than later, puts you at an advantage across a number of levels, but also over a longer period of time?

BM: Yes. Right now, everybody is reacting to an economic climate. Those CIOs who are acting with foresight, looking ahead and saying, "Where will this take me?" are the ones who are going to be successful as opposed to the people who are just reacting to the current environment and looking to cut and slash. Virtualization has a couple of benefits that allow you to save and optimize, but also sets you up for that -- to boomerang you whenever the economic recovery comes.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.

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