Column

Asking stupid questions can lead to server virtualization success

Mark Vaughn

Occasionally, when I’m in a meeting, someone will sheepishly raise a hand and say, “May I ask a stupid question?” My response is always, “Please do!” I love stupid questions, because they are rarely stupid. More often than not, stupid questions are actually the best questions.

When I managed a team, I often assigned documentation tasks to people that did not specialize in the subject matter. My goal was to encourage people to challenge the status quo and ask the stupid questions that “knowledgeable” people didn’t. Too many practices are in place because they were good ideas years ago, and they need to be challenged to ensure that they are still good ideas.

There’s an irony in technology, today. To ensure stability, we set standards and best practices to which we demand strict adherence. At the same time, the rapid lifecycle of both business and technology requires flexibility and agility. Nowhere is this more apparent than with server virtualization.

Take, for example, server provisioning in a virtual environment. It used to take two weeks to get a purchase order approved, another two weeks to ship a server, three days to install and cable the server as well as two days to install and patch the operating system. That’s five weeks from server selection to server availability, and it was perfectly acceptable. Also, in that timeline, a two week

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service-level agreement (SLA) for firewall rules or DNS entries was also acceptable. But you had plenty of time to work out those details and get the appropriate IT tickets open, while you were waiting for the server to be ready.

Luckily, someone asked a stupid question -- why do we do it like that? – and today, you can easily provision a server in 15 minutes.

There are lots more stupid questions to ask. How do you address networking? Are you leveraging the advancements in virtual networking? Maybe you should reevaluate security and antivirus decisions. Security companies have made a number of advancements that build upon technologies, such as VMware’s VMsafe application programming interfaces, to redefine how you should protect an operating system.

Have you reworked your backup or disaster recovery strategies lately? Some of the most exciting technology advances have been in this area. In fact, when you look at the advantages that virtualization brings to disaster recovery, you may even accelerate your drive toward 100% virtualization.   

Thanks to stupid questions, we are on the right track. In 2009, Gartner estimated that 16% of all x86 data center workloads ran on virtualized hardware. By the end of 2012, Gartner predicts that number will grow to more than 50%. I regularly enter data centers where that number is already north of 70%. Just imagine the changes that this shift has brought to bare on both business and IT.

We are creatures of habit, and we can all benefit from bringing in an outside observer and subjecting ourselves to the humbling practice of answering stupid questions. In attempting to defend yesterday’s decisions, you may just realize how irrelevant they are today.


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