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I just virtualized my data center. Was I successful?

I’ve been involved in many data center virtualization projects and one thing that continues to amaze me is that, far too often, the senior management team has no way of knowing if the project is a success. Oh sure, the manager of the data center is thrilled! He’s got only 10% of the systems he had before the project began — but what does that mean to the CxO? Absolutely nothing!

The CxO doesn’t care how many servers are in the data center. He doesn’t care if those servers are running below 10% utilization. He couldn’t care less that there are now only 500 network cables rather than the original 15,000. He doesn’t even really care that the cost of power and cooling has been slashed by 75%. In the grand scheme of things, all those savings amount to a few decimal points in the overall corporate budget. If you want to get your CxO excited, you need to demonstrate that you’re favorably impacting something that he does care about — his line of business applications.

When you get down to brass tacks, it’s not servers that make a business work. It’s applications. It’s SAP, PeopleSoft, some homegrown mission critical piece of software that implements your own “secret sauce” that differentiates you from your competition. For a retailer, it’s being able to meet the surge in demand that comes every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a tax preparation company, it’s that all-important first quarter. How has your virtualization project helped ensure that IT can meet these challenges and keep the applications running? And not only running, but running responsively enough to keep your customers from abandoning their shopping cart because your Web service took too long to respond to their query?

These are the things that matter to the CxO. Remember that when you pitch your project. Here are some suggestions of some metrics that you can use to help sell your project and to measure your degree of success:

  • Virtualization will enable IT to more effectively support your line of business applications by:
    • Rapidly provisioning and deprovisioning capacity to effectively meet the ebb and flow of demand
    • Quickly standing up development environments to support development efforts for enhanced capabilities
    • Enhancing the uptime of individual servers that support the service
    • Supporting transparent platform upgrades over time (How long did it take you to do your last platform upgrade?)
  • Virtualization will enhance your overall IT infrastructure by:
    • Simplifying the application delivery platform
    • Enhancing the manageability of corporate data by consolidation onto centralized shared storage
    • Greatly improving disaster recovery capabilities and shortening RTO and RPO

Assign specific measurements to each of these metrics, such as “Provision in 30 minutes or less new servers to handle 500 additional concurrent users, deprovision in less than 10 minutes”. Begin thinking and expressing yourself in terms that the business understands, and the business owners will begin to see the value provided by IT. If you were able to convince management that IT is a “value center” rather than a “cost center” then you your project was a resounding success!

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Right on, Ken. You gotta put it into something they understand. The CIO may care about the things you talked about but the CTO and CFO and all the other CxOs care about making money for the company. It's the apps that sometimes enable them to do that. If you can show that your work made that app make more money for the company then you're golden. Remember, every dollar added to the top line is worth 10 on the bottom line.