Five ways to push your company toward a 100% virtual data center

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to virtualization is internal resistance. Learn how to convince your co-workers to embrace a 100% virtual data center.

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I've been an IT manager pushing for a 100% virtual data center and I know that it's not easy to achieve. In most cases, not every virtual machine is under your control. You have application owners, business unit managers and end users to consider. 

Sure, migrating utility servers or the print server in the middle of the night is easy. What takes a lot of planning, testing and hand holding is the migration of the company's e-commerce Web server, email server or accounting server. While, in most cases, there is no loss in performance when those servers are virtualized, it's still common for application owners to resist. Those times can be very frustrating (I know, I've been there).

Right now, statistics tell us that roughly 51% of all x86 servers are virtualized. Achieving 100% virtualization is possible and offers your company many benefits. You'll gain efficiencies around backup, disaster recovery, deployments, upgrades, test and development, and much more. A 100% virtual infrastructure is will make your IT team tremendously more efficient and perhaps even allow them to spend more time working on projects that can lead to greater profitability for the company.

Anytime you push for something you should have a strategy, so here are five ways that you can push for 100% virtualization.

Tip 1: Educate and explain the benefits

Certainly, the right way to get people to follow you is not to force them, but to change their minds. The best way to persuade fellow IT pros, developers, application owners and business managers to go along with a virtualization project is to educate them on the benefits of the project

You could show both IT pros and business unit admins the agility of virtualization, and how it allows you to roll out new servers and applications in minutes instead of weeks. You could demonstrate how virtualization might allow the development group to create virtual labs identical to production by cloning virtual machines (VMs). You could demonstrate the ability to replicate VM disk changes across a WAN and recover VMs in minutes, should a disaster occur. Overall, the idea of education is to help them see the value of virtualization.

Tip 2: Justify with cost savings

For those in the business who are only interested in financials (or who need numbers to make the decision), another great way to justify 100% virtualization is by showing the cost savings. There are return on investment calculators for all of the major virtualization platforms out there. While these calculators might give you some ideas, in my opinion they rely too much on "soft costs." These calculators often try to calculate a financial benefit to improved efficiency or agility and are certainly up for debate.

I try to leave cost savings out of the equation and instead simply show how investing in a hypervisor license means a server can run additional virtual servers. This way, you could argue, the company won't have to spend money on another server, additional power, cooling and storage area network ports. If you have to push it, you can always tell financial people that one virtualization admin can manage about twice as many virtual servers as physical servers, thereby reducing the need to add more staff.

Tip 3: Give them power

For developers and application owners, you may convince them to consider virtualization by granting them additional power. Virtualization management tools like VMware vCenter allow you to create role-based administration. By granting developers or application owners limited access to the server, you can give them the power to reboot or view performance stats.

Developers and application owners will also enjoy the ability to clone VMs and create test and development environments in the virtual infrastructure, or even locally on their own laptop.

If this approach doesn't work, you may have to resort to tactic #5, below.

Tip 4: Virtualize all new servers

Even if you have trouble getting approval to migrate existing servers, you can still slowly push virtualization by promising to virtualize any new server. Many companies have adopted a virtualization first policy, where old servers are replaced by VMs when it comes time for a hardware refresh. This approach may take some time, but it is often easier for management to digest.

Even if you're successful in pushing a 100% virtual goal through other methods, this is a smart policy to implement.

Tip 5: Don't tell them

In my case, I did have a developer who was firm that his physical server could not be virtualized. One night the physical server hardware failed. It was an old server and a replacement was not readily available. We restored the backup of the server inside a VM and brought up the server. The developer and his small group of users went a few days before I went into his office and told him that his server had been virtualized. He hadn't noticed any ill effects and, much to my surprise, he had no objections. However, if you want to keep your job, I don't recommend doing this with any critical servers.

In the end, it's not always easy to achieve 100% virtualization, but don't give up!

This was first published in November 2013

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