Selling the virtues of virtualisation is vital: conference-goers

Attendees at VMworld 2007 give their views

Frank Sabatelli believes in virtualisation, but his customers don’t always share his faith.

Sabatelli is vice president of virtual technology at iQor, which runs call centres for financial services firms. The idea that one client’s software application would run in the same physical server as a competitor’s, even in separate virtual servers, has created some resistance.

One large financial services firm configured its own server, locked it down and delivered it to iQor to run. “And don’t touch it,” the client ordered.

Such confusion is not uncommon.

Advocates tout the ability of virtualisation technology to improve server utilisation, save energy and simplify disaster recovery, but it is not mainstream technology. In addition, it can be a disruptive addition because it affects IT planning, processes and the corporate culture.

“This is a new model in how their IT is organised,” said Diane Greene, CEO of VMware, at the recent VMWare 2007 conference.

Before virtualisation, a department seeking more computing resources had to get budget approval, order, wait, receive and then install the new equipment. With virtualisation, a new application can be provisioned in minutes without additional hardware expense. As a result, “these virtual machines just proliferate”, Greene said.

The ease of provisioning that virtualisation provides, however, doesn’t erase other server management challenges. Physical server sprawl is simply replaced with virtual server sprawl, which brings its own headaches.

One area, in particular, where better tools are needed is calculating chargebacks, said Chris Dickson, vice president of marketing for virtualisation metering software provider Virtugo.

Before virtualisation, individual department applications ran on separate servers, making IT billing relatively simple. But with virtualisation, they could all be on one physical server in virtual machines. As utilisation fluctuates for each application over time, calculating chargebacks gets complicated.

For some IT departments, convincing business units of the value of virtualisation requires a careful, modest pitch.

Lee Merrick, IT manager for the Central Business Office at Stanford University, recommends IT managers pick the most convincing goal and present it to the business units.

“You need to pick the primary advantage you see when you pitch a virtualisation project and stick to it,” Merrick said. “There are so many advantages and while they are all real, you can’t pitch them all and expect your management to believe they are all going to materialise.”

Merrick first virtualised the servers under his control to optimise the use of resources and save on new server deployments. He has 20 virtual machines installed on two servers.

For Jared Beard, associate director in Technology Services at Indiana University, the challenge is convincing other IT groups to believe in virtualisation.

“Our network operations staff is not ready for virtualisation,” said Beard, who with virtualisation has consolidated 20 physical servers down to three. “Their main concern is high availability. If that one machine goes down, all the virtual machines go down. That’s the hard sell of virtualisation for me.”

Nonetheless, Beard is convinced the technology is worth it. “Virtualisation has been rock solid — the hardware is there, the operating systems are there. It’s time to embrace it.”

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