TechEd attendees weigh problems, benefits of server virtualization

Without proper planning and management, virtualization problems can diminish the technology's benefits, IT managers warn at Microsoft TechEd 2009.

LOS ANGELES -- As the benefits of Microsoft's virtualization play attract more interest, company executives and longtime users warn that adopting the technology is not without its problems.

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The road to TechEd 2009

At the TechEd 2009 session "The Reality and Impact of Virtualization for IT Managers" this week, a panel of Microsoft executives and experts said virtualization deployments can create unique problems without proper planning. The key to avoiding these issues is for IT to treat virtualization as it would any other technology, said Edwin Yuen, a senior technical product manager.

"You have to do all the maintenance, management and control of [virtual] machines that you normally do [on physical machines]," he said.

I can't provision storage fast enough.
Lynn Freeman,
technical supervisorGroup Health Cooperative

That's easier said than done, said Lynn Freeman, a technical supervisor at the Group Health Cooperative in the Seattle area. Deploying virtual machines (VMs) is easy and getting easier, but deploying the associated storage and networking components takes longer and is more complex, Freeman said.

"I can't provision storage fast enough," she added. "It's a bit of a frustration for my team."

The panelists suggested that a pilot program could help bring all the involved teams together and help them learn to plan for the simultaneous deployment of VMs and their required physical machines.

"At some point, you have to marry these two processes together," Yuen said.

Virtualization's compatibility problem
Another problem associated with virtualization is application incompatibility. One systems administrator in the healthcare industry said many independent software vendors (ISVs) -- especially those that create niche applications for vertical markets -- won't update their programs to run on VMs. (Microsoft refers to this problem as "ISV stall.") Executives said local Microsoft account representatives will help users pressure these ISVs into becoming virtualization compatible.

Freeman described her experience with virtualization -- Group Health Cooperative first virtualized in 2002 -- as "a challenge and a blessing." The organization is still saving money and seeing a return on its investment, but Freeman said she can't take advantage of virtualization as much as she'd like because of these physical limitations.

"We're going to now have to step back," she said. "We're a victim of our own success."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Colin Steele, Site Editor.

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