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Virtualization and staffing

How does virtualization impact staffing?

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The idea that server virtualization will reduce headcount and costs is a common misconception. Virtualization does not reduce the number of logical servers; it only changes their location and nature. Staff is still needed to manage every virtual machine instance, associated application and database. So while the skills required to manage the servers change, the actual workload doesn't necessarily decline.

The virtualization solutions on the market today are relatively new and rapidly evolving. Because the technology is so new, skills and experience with management tools are already hard to come by. As the technology matures, management processes will change from creating new virtual machines to measuring and managing server performance through chargebacks and other mechanisms. Capacity planning is also new to Wintel managers, so administrators must balance risk against maximizing utilization and efficiency. New tools to plan and monitor capacity within virtualized environments are becoming available, but you also need skills and processes to use those tools effectively. So, the real question becomes how to staff for this major operational change. Should staff be retrained? Or should new skills be brought in by experienced workers?

The trouble is, the required skills are scarce and costly. Training is likely the best option for most organizations, but this alternative brings its own set of risks, because the market lacks maturity and well-established best practices. Best practices for operations will evolve as organizations implement and learn what works. This means that the training currently available might make your team technically savvy, but can still leave holes in management processes. Organizations should not ignore training costs and the associated risks when building their business cases for virtualization.

This was first published in January 2008

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