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Threats to your virtualization initiative

Avoid threats that could hamper your virtualization initiative in this expert response from Scott Feuless.

What are some of the biggest threats to the success of a virtualization initiative?

The key focus in most virtualization initiatives relates to ensuring that the workloads of applications fit together on a single server. This is certainly critical to success, but some of the biggest threats to a virtualization initiative don't relate to the performance of applications residing in a virtualized infrastructure. There are many obstacles to watch out for including internal politics, service partners and pre-conceived notions about the impact of virtualization on operations.

Unrealistic savings expectations up front. The real benefits of virtualization are not always well understood. Personnel savings in one area are often offset by increases in other areas. Hardware cost savings will depend on application profiles that may not be known before the initiative begins. Software cost savings are typically unknown until late in the project as well.

Relying on vendors for guidance. Organizations need to exercise caution when choosing their partners in a consolidation endeavor. Hardware vendors, in particular, are trying to turn a threat to their revenue streams into a significant market opportunity. They have to – they owe it to their stockholders. The current trend to encourage companies to purchase new, high-powered servers that can manage an increased number of applications ignores the fact that utilizing existing idle capacity, or capacity you would have purchased anyway as part of the standard refresh cycle, produces the highest savings. Do your own homework, and get assistance, but make sure that assistance doesn't have vested interest in the choices that you make.

Thinking of virtualization as a project. Going to a consolidated environment that leverages virtualization has long-term process implications. It's a fundamental change in the way the environment is designed, changed, grown, measured and paid for. The planning that goes into the initial project has to be documented, proceduralized and developed into a core competency. If this doesn't happen the "project" will end with congratulatory pats on the back all around, but then a year later you'll be explaining to management why you need to do it all over again.

Push back from the business. Just telling your business unit V.P.s that you are going to move their applications to shared environments is not typically going to go over very well, even if you tell them it's in the name of lowering costs. If you're allocating IT cost to the business units in a more or less arbitrary way, and you can't show management how their monthly IT charges will decrease as a result of virtualization, they aren't likely to buy in. Business units that are direct revenue generators for the firm will happily veto an IT initiative that affects their critical applications if they don't see clear and compelling value (and "value" here is spelled "P&L impact").

Inability to measure success. At some point you are going to need to show some results. The problem is that the balanced scorecard you've likely been using for the last few years has metrics like "hardware cost per server" on it. Not only does that not improve with virtualization, it may actually increase. Virtualization tends to nudge the average box size upwards if anything, and you may need a higher level of technology than you did before (more clustering, for example). You can look at average utilization, but how do you relate that to costs? What happens when new boxes come in with faster chips that send your utilization down again? It's time to shift the way we look at server metrics and start measuring processing delivered to the end user rather than simply looking at hardware capacity. That's not easy to measure, and most organizations just aren't there yet.

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