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Virtualization projects hit in-house roadblocks

Good news: Virtualization is getting cheaper and easier. Bad news: It's hard to get budget approval, and IT pros don't always have the skills to support virtualization projects.

The divide between IT and management is stopping virtualization projects in their tracks.

Management may not see the true ROI.

Jase McCarty, virtualization enthusiast,

Server virtualization has become cheaper and easier to use, but getting budget approval for virtualization projects is often a challenge for IT professionals. And some organizations still lack the skilled, trained staff needed to support these projects.

"Getting it up and going initially, the low-hanging fruit, it's easy," said Rod Gabriel, an IT infrastructure engineer at United Financial Services Inc. in Grafton, Wis. "But once you start getting into some of these higher-end systems … then you're getting a little more complex, and you need more knowledge on how you manage that."

The results of TechTarget's "Virtualization Decisions 2010 Purchasing Intentions Survey" show just how big of an obstacle these organizational challenges have become. Of respondents who said they don't plan to deploy server virtualization or expand its use in 2010, 29% said it's because they can't get budget approval this year.

A combined 29% also identified "lack of in-house management skills" and "lack of in-house installation skills" as roadblocks.

This data marks a shift from 2009 survey data, when the top reasons for not virtualizing servers were cost (27%) and complexity (21%). In 2010, the numbers for these responses decreased to 16% and 9%, respectively.

"I find it interesting that there's a shift from 'It's too expensive' to 'My manager won't approve it,'" said Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect at a large Midwestern university. "There's still a lot of people who don't understand what virtualization is, but it's one of those things where you have to spend money to save money."

Selling management on virtualization projects
The fact that more IT pros can't get virtualization budgets approved, even though fewer think it's too expensive this year, shows a disconnect between IT departments and their business decision makers.

"Upper-management buy-in is the biggest thing," said Gabriel, whose firm is almost 100% virtualized. "I sold them early on and convinced them that virtualization was the way for our company to grow."

But that's easier said than done in many organizations, where the business side of the house may be unfamiliar with virtualization and view it as just a buzzword or fad, said Jase McCarty, an IT professional who runs the virtualization blog Jase's Place.

"Management may not be able to see the true ROI of virtualization and how it can, if implemented properly, actually lower costs," McCarty said.

C.J. Metz, a virtualization and backup systems administrator at a Fortune 300 company, agreed. Luckily, it's no longer like the early days of virtualization, when potential customers had to rely solely on vendor information to make their decisions, he said. Now there's an abundance of websites, blogs and other information sources that IT pros can use to sell management on the benefits of virtualization.

"The information is so much more readily available than it was before," Metz said.

McCarty also noted that all the major vendors offer free products, which make it cheap and easy to do a pilot project. These proof-of-concept deployments can show the business-side decision makers how virtualization will benefit their organization, he said.

Virtualization skills: A bit of this, a bit of that
Survey respondents said virtualization has gotten easier to use, but that's typically in the early stages of a project.

"Deploying it is extremely easy," Metz said. "It's really a no-brainer. … You run into more complexity when you get into things like chargeback, automation, resource pools."

The further down the virtualization road you go, the more likely it is that a lack of skills in your organization becomes a roadblock. For example, VMware vCenter Server, VMware's management suite, requires a back-end database, and VMware's new cloud offering, vCloud Director, runs only on Oracle databases.

"You have to become a DBA [database administrator]," Plankers said. "That can be daunting in a lot of organizations, especially small businesses."

A lack of skills can also make virtualization projects look bad to management, hurting the chances that future projects will get approved. For example, some on the business side may think they can't achieve the same performance levels with virtualization as they can by running applications natively on physical servers. But especially in smaller shops, it's often the case that there aren't enough people (or enough people with the right skills) to do the right tuning to improve performance, McCarty said.

"They blame virtualization," not the configuration, he said.

What else stops virtualization projects?
Of course, budgets and lack of skills aren't the only virtualization roadblocks. Two-thirds of organizations have virtualized 50% or less of their infrastructure, according to the survey results, so there's plenty of blame to go around.

Independent software vendors' support policies can make virtualizing applications a challenge.

"I still have one or two application vendors who say, 'We don't support that in a virtual server,'" Gabriel said. "But when push comes to shove, they're either going to support it or we'll find another vendor that will."

Virtualization needs some sort of shared storage, and that also hinders many smaller organizations, Plankers said.

"A lot of it hinges on an enterprise-class storage array," he said. "A lot of shops don't have shared storage."

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