Five Critical Criteria for Server Virtualization

Virtualization is the topic du jour among IT professionals. As CIOs continue to search for more efficient – and cost-effective – ways to manage the data center, the promise of being able to do more with fewer resources is spurring a large proportion of enterprises to test the virtualization waters.

Server virtualization is defined as a technology that allows you to transform a physical computing resource into a logical one. The technology can be implemented as a single physical machine that operates like multiple servers, or multiple servers that appear as a single machine. Either way, it promises significant benefits, among them better hardware utilization, improved load balancing, more flexible provisioning, lower power consumption and reduced data center personnel costs.

“Virtualization allows organizations to better utilize their resources, as well as have the ability to respond quickly and agilely to changing business needs,” says Barb Goldworm, president and chief analyst at Focus Consulting, a Boulder, Colo.-based research firm specializing in systems and storage. “It’s a very powerful technology.”

But as is often the case with new technologies, the reality may not live up to the promise.

The Right Steps to Real Results

How can you maximize your chances of getting the results you want?  Before implementing the technology, there are critical factors to take into account. The top five actions include:

  • Analyze which applications are best served by virtualization. Not all applications work well in a virtualized environment. “One of the main challenges is figuring out the types of applications that are most applicable for benefiting from this environment,” says Matt Brudzyn, a senior research consultant with the Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ontario. “Transaction-intensive applications like databases that strain the network and storage components of a virtualized resource tend not to be the most effective use of the technology.” There are the licensing issues to consider, too. Many software vendors still sell licenses based on the amount of hardware used, and “those license fees can rapidly add up in a virtualized environment,” he says.
  • Decide what problem you want to tackle first, and advance incrementally. As with any potentially large IT project, you “probably don’t want to flip the switch on your entire data center overnight,” says Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor with industry analyst firm Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. It’s better to start with a pilot project and proceed gradually, he says. “Go for the low-hanging fruit. Luckily, virtualization lends itself nicely to starting on a relatively small scale.”
  • Carefully evaluate the functionality and pricing offered by each vendor. “With so many new players jumping into the market, it pays to take a step back and understand which virtualization platforms make the most sense for your specific needs,” says Tony Iams, senior analyst with consulting firm Ideas International in Rye Brook, N.Y. Maturity and the functional capabilities of these products are obviously vital issues, but price is important, too. “Many of these less-established firms are pricing their products extremely aggressively, and you might not need all the functionality offered by the more expensive offerings,” he says.
  • Provide your data center staff with adequate training and professional support. These are brand-new concepts that require brand-new skills from your data center personnel. Although in theory employee productivity should improve, workers will need time-and sufficient training-to get up to speed. And, adds Haff, “you may well decide to hire consultants to help develop your in-house skill sets.”
  • Motivate users to adapt swiftly to the new computing model. Your users may resist the idea of losing control of the physical servers formerly dedicated to their applications or worry about sharing capacity resources with other departments or lines of business. In such cases, passing on the often-considerable savings that your data center reaps from virtualization can be a strong motivation for users to embrace the new technology. “If you’re using a charge-back model, cut your users’ costs proportionally with how much money you’re saving,” says Goldworm.

The bottom line: “It’s too early to give a recipe for success” in the fast-changing virtualization field, says Iams. “But the cost savings, increased efficiency and increased agility are proving very attractive.”