Same Foot, Smaller Footprint With Virtualization

The potential to increase server utilization is the primary reason virtualization has been gaining traction in the enterprise. Cost reductions — through greater data center efficiency, flexibility, lower energy usage and space needs — are others.

Though it does not directly impact the functional footprint of IT systems, virtualization can enable organizations to manage them more efficiently. It offers significant advantages when it comes to configuring and managing their physical IT footprints by increasing server utilization, systems management and workload processing efficiencies.

“The No. 1 reason [virtualization is on the uptake in the enterprise] is its strong ability to reduce resource requirements for applications and drive up resource utilization,” Forrester Research Principal Analyst James Staten told TechNewsWorld. “On the client and application delivery areas, it has additional administrative cost savings benefits as maintenance and support of the applications and client environments are centralized and easier to manage.”

Increasing Utilization

Not getting the full benefit of their server investments is one of the main problems facing enterprise IT departments and organizations, according Gunther Schmalzhaf, product manager, SAP Adaptive Computing and Virtualization. “Most of the time, server utilization is low — 20 percent on average, with periodic peak usage — during month-end reporting cycles, for example. Virtualization can increase this.”

Organizations are also suffering from a lack of flexibility in terms of scaling systems up or down, rolling out new applications, integrating new components and managing workload. “Using virtualization customers can overcome some of these challenges. We want to very open such that they can take advantage of virtualization at each level,” Schmalzhaf elaborated.

Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and ESS infrastructure software at HP, agrees. “Some corporate data centers use just 10 to 30 percent of their available processing power. Virtualization helps an organization pool and share IT resources in a way that reduces costs, makes the IT infrastructures more flexible and assures supply automatically meets demand. It can reduce the technology footprint of the data center through consolidation, freeing up resources and moving towards 24×7 ‘lights out’ computing.”

Once Upon a Time

“Virtualization is no longer a thing of the future,” van der Zweep continued. According to IDC, investments in virtualization technology will reach US$15 billion by 2009. Forty percent of new operating systems will be deployed on virtual machines by 2010, he noted.

Virtualization provides a means for organizations to make a beneficial shift in how and where their resources are spent, van der Zweep continued. “For example, virtualization may place some pressure on overall server industry unit volumes because it allows organizations to consolidate many servers onto just a few servers. However, it also drives sales in richer configurations with more memory and networking.”

HP prides itself on having “the broadest virtualization offering in the industry, including a portfolio of solutions ranging from those focused on virtualization of individual elements to solutions that span complete heterogeneous data center environments,” according to van der Zweep. “Virtualization is really driving the next wave of computing, where resources are shared and pooled,” he maintained.

The University of Utah achieved a 15:1 consolidation ratio by consolidating 150 physical servers onto 10 HP ProLiant BladeSystem servers, van der Zweep said. Mitel has more than doubled server utilization for mission-critical SAP and Oracle applications by using the “HP Virtual Server Environment for Integrity” servers. Australia’s Central Queensland University has increased systems availability by 3,500 percent, reduced recovery time from 18 hours to less than 30 minutes and can now dynamically provision storage from a central management console by making use of an HP storage area network (SAN) and HP Enterprise Virtual Array.

Virtualization enables “organizations to better manage the functional footprint of their SAP landscapes,” SAP’s Schmalzhaf concurs. “One of our customers — a hosting company — did an examination with a university customer and calculated a TCO (total cost of ownership) reduction of 30 to 40 percent. This included all operational cost reductions from hardware and storage.”

Managing Complexity

Virtualization does add an extra layer of complexity, however, Schmalzhaf noted. “You have to think about management, about ways to overcome this complexity.” Adding an extra layer of infrastructure between the hardware and software creates “an opportunity for performance degradation of the applications that run in a virtualized environment,” van der Zweep added.

That’s led SAP to develop the SAP Adaptive Computing Controller, a data center management tool that “hides the complexity of the landscape taking account of all major physical and virtual servers and storage device facilities and managing the configuration and operation more flexibly, more easily and much faster.

“It’s been developed for use by SAP Basis and other systems administrators to better manage workloads,” Schmalzhaf explained. “It simplifies data center operations and enables various systems administrators to better and more easily coordinate their activities across application platforms and areas within the IT department.”

Working along the same line, HP has come up with data center management tools such as the HP Performance Center and HP LoadRunner, which, van der Zweep explained, “help determine whether applications will perform to meet the needs of the business and whether they will scale to support the anticipated number of users at peak times. When performance issues are identified, they can be corrected before the applications are deployed into production.

“Operationally, organizations must be prepared to properly manage their virtual environments, or they risk creating virtual sprawl and minimizing their ability to fully gain the benefits of the technology,” he continued. “This is why management has become a primary issue for data center managers. HP’s approach is to help build a unified infrastructure where virtual and physical environments can be managed together — greatly eliminating the complexity and risks sometimes associated with adoption.”

Not Always a Science

It’s difficult to estimate and forecast future needs and opportunities, such as reducing the typical practice of over-sizing IT systems’ capacity needs, Schmalzhaf noted.

For instance, another SAP customer, an IT outsourcing/hosting company, offers its customers additional server capacity within a day on an as-needed basis. “They have spare capacity reserved for peak period usage or for on-demand third-party use, which is an added value they can offer customers,” he noted.

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