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Top 5 challenges of virtualization

IT is encountering pain points with server virtualization adoption. Learn to demonstrate ROI, whether to move to virtual desktop infrastructure and how to deal with other issues.

In today's IT landscape, virtualization is a must-have technology. But virtualizing core elements of a traditional infrastructure does come with some pain points -- many of which have nothing to do with technology.

How do you address the challenges of virtualized environments, including the naysayers in your organization? Here are my top five virtualization problems, along with five with real-world solutions.

  1. Be an evangelist. Convincing people that virtualization is an established practice and will save the company money is critical to your success. Otherwise, application owners and business unit leaders will not buy into the project. In some cases, I've seen departments go so far as to pay extra money to be what I refer to as "server-huggers." This phenomenon is where the perceived changes involved with "going virtual" are so great that extra funds are spent to avoid them.

    The key to being a successful evangelist is to communicate your successes. Start with easy projects that build your reputation, then move on to bigger challenges. As your virtualization landscape matures, so will the scope of the projects that lay ahead. Issues such as Tier 1 applications, introducing virtualization categories and going after high-hanging fruit are not for the faint at heart. But success will breed more success.
  2. Show me the money. Virtualization implementations come with great pressure to prove a quick return on investment (ROI). To do a good job of evangelizing, you will also have to prove that money is being saved. Above all else, virtualization is about doing more with less. Start with simple arguments such as explaining how purchasing 100 servers at $5,000 each does not make fiscal sense when you can purchase four servers at $20,000 each for the same services. Furthermore, the 100 servers will sit idle at 5% to 10% utilization rates, yet cost the full amount to operate.

    Once you make the initial investment to move to a virtual environment, you will be asked about how quickly you can meet your cost-saving goal. This also applies to related elements of the implementation such as power consumption and space savings. Set baselines ahead of time, and you'll need some project management skills to meet ROI benchmarks and demonstrate a positive financial impact to the bottom line.
  3. Next step: VDI? OK, you've virtualized your servers -- now what? For many organizations, the next logical step is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementation. But not all environments are a candidate for VDI because of factors such as application compatibility, bandwidth or costs that just don't justify the investment. Some alternatives to help you build on your server virtualization success are storage virtualization, virtual IP addressing and application virtualization.

    The key to tackling other categories of virtualization is the same as for other IT initiatives -- timing. For example, it doesn't make sense to replace all storage systems with virtualized storage if the gear is brand-. Expected utilization rates will also determine whether a category of virtualization makes sense. For most organizations, virtualizing the servers is the easy part. Virtualizing the rest of the data center will take a bit more time and effort.
  4. shared storage. As organizations virtualization to their data centers, many are also introducing shared storage. Various storage- network (SAN) configurations can be used to virtualize servers with VMware, Microsoft and Citrix technologies. But advanced storage may not have been part of the data center setup before virtualization came to town.

    Beyond the technical learning curve, shared storage requires a substantial monetary investment. You can always find cheap storage for virtual environments, but there is plenty of risk related to performance with substandard components for a virtualized infrastructure. Further, there are support matrices that matter for VMware and other virtualization technologies. Organizations to shared storage will make the transition, but expect bumps in the road with this virtualization pain point.
  5. Virtualization has a 'big foot.' Almost every data center actually increases its server footprint once virtualization technologies are . Sure, the number of physical servers goes down, but the number of operating system installations increase. This may be especially felt in test and development environments. Controlling this moving target will be a challenge.
  6. Simply shutting down the data center for a weekend and converting every server to a virtual machine is not an option. The time needed to execute a consolidation for migrating servers to a virtual machine frequently collides with system requests. This timeframe for accommodating additional capacity requests may skew existing plans and completion dates. Many organizations assume that virtual machines are free and that virtual capacity shortages can be solved by money. Getting the additional capacity is easy in a virtualized environment, but getting the time and money to increase capacity is the real challenge.


    Rick Vanover (VCP, MCITP, MCSA) is an IT infrastructure manager at a large financial services organization in Columbus, Ohio. He has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration and system hardware.

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