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Staffing and virtualization, a response

I read an article here on SSV entitled “Virtualization and Staffing” the other day, and decided I had to add my two cents in and comment. I was going to do a sound-off and comment on the actual page, but I decided that this may be a better forum for the length of my response. It’s a great article, and it hits the major point of staffing and the virtualized data center well, although I partially disagree with the statement that:

“Virtualization does not reduce the number of logical servers; it only changes their location and nature. Staff is still needed to manage every virtual machine instance, associated application and database. So while the skills required to manage the servers change, the actual workload doesn’t necessarily decline.”

I agree with the last sentence 50% – while I beleive that the skills do change, I also have seen that the workload does go down, quite dramatically. The workload is reduced, particularly in lage data centers, for hardware technicians. There are less JBODs and DADs to fail, less processors to burn out, less RAM sticks to go bad, less motherboards to fail, etc. etc. Where these are handled in-house with onsite staff, the needs for this kind of work are reduced (not eliminated). When these hardware support services are handled by an outside agency (as is often the case), the reduced staff required to manage hardware failures are often translated differently – contracts are often summed up as “client pays X dollars per group of X machines”. This price reflects the vendors estimates on having to staff for the average failure rates of the hardware being supported. Thus, as the hardware count goes down, the contracts are renewed for fewer machines, the client pays less, and the vendor needs fewer staff. Somewhere, there will be a cost reduction through workforce reduction.

Then there is the often overlooked area of  lights-on indirect support. I remember well the change control meetings where every meeting started off with a rubber stamp on “Clean data center – vacuum server spaces, vacuum rack tops, vacuum floor”. There were also the frequent “Wire new racks xxx, yyy, zzz for Ethernet, power, cooling, fibre, KVM.” With less need to rack up new servers, there’s less need for electricians, cablers, HVAC techs, cleaning staff, etc.

Overall, great article – it gets the point when it comes to programmers, server admins, and other computer-focussed jobs that aren’t going away, and may even go up as sprawl increases. That said, we can’t overlook the savings on the other side – the operations behind the operating systems.

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