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Guidelines for conquering virtualization project inertia

Switching hypervisors or deploying a private cloud can be a marathon struggle, but there is hope for successfully tackling a virtualization project.

For many businesses, change can be a slow and frustrating process. Fear, uncertainty and doubt can kill a virtualization project before it ever has a chance to get off the ground. The trouble is, IT shops that are slow to change can quickly go from an asset that enables business growth to a financial liability. In this Q&A, Nick Martin, editor at SearchServerVirtualization talks with author and Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn about how to approach two potential changes IT shops are facing today: How to choose and switch hypervisors and how to evaluate the value of a private cloud.

What are the key areas or capabilities an organization should consider when comparing and choosing hypervisors?

Aidan Finn: For me it always comes down to one question: Why does the business have an IT infrastructure? I hope the answer is to provide services that enable the business to operate. Businesses value uptime, reliability, and are looking to deploy clouds, whether they be public, private or hybrid solutions. IT wants an infrastructure that is easy to manage, is flexible and allows them to focus efforts on engineering and projects instead of repetitive manual tasks.

You need to keep these aspects in mind when you're investigating and evaluating the competitors. It is easy to get lost on the many little details. Think big, see the forest while focusing on the trees.

In my opinion, the decision maker and their advisers also need to engage with experienced consultants who know the technologies. Quite honestly, just about every techie, consultant and service provider will enter the conversation with an agenda. Don't rely on one evaluation. Engage with a number of recognized experts and let them pitch the solutions that meet the greater requirements of IT and the business.

Changing hypervisors is a big deal for an established organization. What do you think is the best way to approach it? For example, deploy Hyper-V alongside vSphere as a second hypervisor, and continue running both? Or deploy Hyper-V in a test environment before switching over completely?

Finn: That's a big question, and I think it will depend on the situation. I've seen, heard of and read about numerous scenarios. It starts with developing the Microsoft stack (Hyper-V and System Center) side-by-side with VMware.

Some companies are under pressure to move. This might be a hard deadline based on contracts or budget challenges. There will be a need to move from vSphere to Hyper-V as quickly as possible.

Others choose to go with the hybrid solution. Maybe they've decided to retain existing services on vSphere and deploy new services on Hyper-V. An option might be to see how Hyper-V goes over a longer time frame with production systems and make a decision after that. Alternatively, some organizations might choose what they think is the best hypervisor for each service deployment, using Hyper-V for some systems, vSphere for some and other hypervisors for the rest. The great thing about the Microsoft management stack is that it will happily manage the big three -- Hyper-V, vSphere and XenServer -- so the benefits of the management stack can be extended across the data center.

Are you aware of any common misconceptions or misunderstandings about Hyper-V that might slow or prevent a hypervisor change?

Finn: Oh yes! Linux is supported on Hyper-V. In fact, the Hyper-V integration services for Linux (think of them as the drivers and OS additions that improve performance and management) have been in the Linux kernel since version 3.3. Microsoft has been constantly improving these integration services for Linux and increasing the number of officially supported Linux distributions and versions. Microsoft actually maintains a list of supported guest operating systems. There you'll notice CentOS and Ubuntu (both important to public clouds), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Open SUSE and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Don't tell Microsoft, but I like to use Ubuntu 12.04 in my demo environment. The Linux Integration Services are built into the kernel and it's really easy to deploy. I love to show off the new features of Hyper-V, such as simultaneously Live Migrating 20 VMs [virtual machines] or moving their storage to SMB 3.0 storage, without my Linux VMs suffering service outages.

How should an organization evaluate whether a private cloud would be a worthwhile virtualization project?

Finn: A key trait of the private cloud is self-service. This is where the private cloud [infrastructure] administrators delegate the ability to create VMs to internal customers in the business, such as application administrators, software developers and testers.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think the decision on deploying a private cloud comes down to two simple questions:

  1. Are the people who manage the physical infrastructure the same people that manage the services? If you have five people who manage the servers and every application that runs on them, then self-service makes no sense to me. Traditional virtualization, but with the benefit of better service management, is the thing to focus on. However, if there are dedicated staff in the business for managing the software on the servers, then self-service might be an option.
  2. Is self-service a realistic possibility for the business? Maybe the business does have users whose job it is to manage software. We cannot assume that self-service deployment of VMs will be appropriate -- some organizations have more rigid practices than others.

One might think that private cloud computing is a virtualization project just for the largest enterprises. Not so, in my opinion. The benefits can apply to a small business, such as a software development house. A few administrators can manage the infrastructure. Developers and testers can use the cloud portal to deploy VMs and services as required without waiting for IT, and this makes the company more flexible and competitive.

How would you describe the level of difficulty in moving to a private cloud model with Hyper-V?

More from Finn

Download and read Chapter 2 of Finn's book, Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Installation and Configuration Guide.

Finn: I'm not going to lie and say that deploying any private cloud on any platform is easy. This is potentially a complex architecture. There is a learning curve, but once you get over it, things get easier. Personally, I find deploying Hyper-V to be pretty easy; I've put the work in and have my deployments with complex network configurations scripted out using PowerShell, so I get predictable and repeatable results.

Let's not forget that introducing any private cloud is more than just a virtualization project. There are changes to business practices involved: processes, accounting, negotiations and education. Get this right, and you can drastically change IT into a strategically important part of the business that is more than just a help desk, but enables the business to be competitive and responsive to change.

I'd strongly advise people to bring in a consulting company that employs suitably experienced architects and subject matter experts. They can design and implement the entire solution for the small and medium-sized businesses. In a large enterprise, the consultants could do the proof-of- hand over the design to the internal IT group.

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