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Support issues slow virtualization rollouts

Despite budget cuts, business users continue to spend on virtualization, but support issues have slowed some deployments.

NEW YORK CITY -- Users say that despite budget cuts they are spending on virtualization technology, but they add that support issues are slowing some deployments.

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A large midwestern candy maker was one of several users we talked with at IDC's Virtualization Forum, that has run into support and compatibility problems. In this case, the company uses VMware ESX 3.5 and has 80 production virtual machines (VMs) running on an HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array 5000.

The company's virtual machines will power off and then power back on as they lose the connection to their LUNs. It turns out the multipathing software on the EVA 5000 is not compatible with ESX 3.5. The firm's senior infrastructure engineer, Gary Pionke, contacted VMware and HP and was informed by both companies that ESX 3.5 does not support the older HP storage array. The candy company can upgrade its storage, roll back to a version of ESX that supports the older array or possibly add a virtualization layer between the EVA and VMware.

"We're doing our best to make it work," said Pionke. But these options are all tough to swallow when budgets are tight.

Virtualization support still an uphill battle
By 2010 there will be more new virtual machines than physical machines -- 16.6 million -- installed worldwide, according to Matt Eastwood, the group vice president of enterprise platforms at IDC. But the sheer number of VMs will place an added burden on systems management, which has yet to catch up with the myriad challenges of managing virtual and physical systems.

The big apps vendors are still concerned about whether a virtualized platform can handle the I/O performance of their application.
Gary Chen,
research manager for server virtualization softwareIDC

Moreover, users continue to express concern about the commitment of application vendors, particularly SAP and PeopleSoft, to support virtualization. Many said that when there is a problem in a virtualized environment., application providers tend to hide behind virtualization vendors. To investigate a problem, an application vendor will tell an IT shop it must uninstall the application from its virtual environment and move it to a physical setup to isolate the fault. This process is a big time suck and appears to be a major factor slowing down the movement of production applications to virtual systems.

Bruno Janssens, an enterprise architect at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. said he pressures his vendors to support virtualization, but it's a slow process. Older versions of Oracle and BEAWebLogic are not supported. He said they also run into problems with government regulations that certify certain platforms for financial modeling applications but not others. "Government regulations don't recognize virtual systems," he said.

"The problems are not completely solved," said Gary Chen, IDC's research manager for server virtualization software. "The big apps vendors are still concerned about whether a virtualized platform can handle the I/O performance of their application." His colleague Al Gillen, IDC research vice president of software, cut to the chase. "The application vendors see consolidation squeezing their revenue as fewer boxes mean fewer licenses."

Meanwhile, companies well down the road of virtualization deployment said that when a company doesn't prepare for rapid growth, internal support issues crop up. Ricky Gravely, officer, the EIS supervisor of enterprise virtual solutions at Wachovia, said the typical ratio of servers to systems administrators used to be 30 to 40 physical hosts to one administrator.. Now, with each host running multiple machines, the tasks associated with one box are greater and more complex and systems admins have to do much more.

"It's important to recognize your staff has a lot of added work," Gravely said. Whenever he gets the chance, he takes his team out for ice cream.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jo Maitland, Executive Editor..And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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