Virtualisation not a magic cure-all: users, vendors, analysts

While it has benefits, it needs to be carefully managed

For a technology that’s supposed to make computing easier, virtualisation is becoming quite complicated.

Despite the appeal of virtualisation as a way to use IT resources more efficiently, it adds a layer of complexity that IT managers may not be prepared for and which may reduce the anticipated return on investment.

The number of virtualised servers deployed by businesses is exploding “like bacteria in a petri dish”, says David Gee, vice president of marketing for HP’s Software division.

Users say they face the same management issues when running a virtual environment as a physical one, he notes.

“I have to track and monitor who gets access to what, who created it. Are they allowed to do this?” Gee says.

Virtualisation can make a single physical server act like multiple logical servers, improving server utilisation. It allows one server to run multiple software applications simultaneously, reducing the number of computers needed. While virtualisation is commonly used in server environments, it’s also being used in desktops, storage arrays, networks and for disaster recovery.

But using virtualisation to consolidate the number of physical servers doesn’t mean IT managers’ duties shrink.

CA reported earlier this year that 44% of 800 IT professionals surveyed globally “were unable to declare their virtualisation deployment a success”.

The survey, conducted for CA by an independent firm, showed that 28% of respondents failed to see the return on investment they anticipated, or couldn’t determine if they had seen the ROI. Forty per cent didn’t achieve the cost savings they expected, or couldn’t determine if they had achieved the anticipated savings. For one thing, companies don’t necessarily save on IT staff costs by virtualising, says Peter Richardson, director of product management at CA.

If a company that runs 300 operating systems on 300 servers reduces that to running 10 virtual servers on each of 30 physical servers, it still has 300 OSes and related software applications to manage, says Richardson. Moreover, as more virtual servers are added, those 30 physical servers could be running as many as 500 applications.

“You could go around universally and ask any client that has virtualised whether they reduced staff and the bottom line is no,” Richardson says.

Of course, CA is making the point to promote its own virtualisation management software, which, Richardson says, manages virtual environments even if there are different brands of servers on the network.

Server vendors also offer virtualisation management software, such as HP’s ProLiant Essentials Virtual Machine Management software. There also are a few good niche management software products available, “but there is still no fully cohesive virtual management suite”, says Andi Mann, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

Scott Healy, chairman of HP user group ITUG and a vice president of IT at Sabre Holdings, says: “The promise of virtualisation is when you are able to use servers for different applications at different times without impacting the general availability of your IT resources. Balancing that is a concern for any IT manager.”

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