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Winning management buy-in for server virtualization projects

Whether the impetus for server virtualization comes from the top down or the bottom up, winning management buy-in for virtual server technology is key to implementation success.

One factor that has helped virtual server infrastructure gain acceptance at my organization is support from managers. They receive derision or praise for how the organization runs technically. No matter what your virtual sever technology of choice is, gaining their acceptance and fostering the proper mind-set concerning server virtualization is key.

Server virtualization may enter your organization in two ways: from the bottom up, where the system is architected by those working with the technology (such as server administrators) and from the top down, where executives propose or mandate the technology. In either scenario, the approach to getting management on board is similar.

Get to know virtual server technology
First, you need to understand the virtual server technology you propose. Read white papers, find blogs, and find others in your industry who use the technology and ask them how they did it.

Getting the base technology and licensing models under your belt is important. When your manager asks a technical question, you should be able to provide an informed answer. Any good manager will prevent you from moving forward without demonstrating this knowledge. Saying that you do not know won't garner stakeholder confidence.

Not all projects are directed from a technical perspective, however. Some are demanded by upper-level management, as in the case of a CIO getting an idea at a trade show. In these cases, knowledge of virtual server technology is important and helps you gain acceptance for the project.

Know your organization
What is your business model? Who are your customers? How much of a monetary investment can the organization make? If your servers are the lifeblood of your business and can never go down, then your chosen technology must meet these demands. If your organization's servers don't require around-the-clock availability, a system with every bell and whistle may not meet your organization's goals. Once you established a virtual environment, you can always add new features.

In addition, the potential cost of a virtual server environment plays a major role. Managerial goals and level-of-service expectations tend to change when cost is thrown into the mix. From a technical perspective, this is frustrating. But you should know your organization's financial abilities and technical needs. When you present a proposed technology to management, it should take both these factors into account.

In 2005, my organization found itself in the common situation of not having enough space in its data center. We investigated various server virtualization options and did not opt for the one with the most capabilities and robustness. Our decision was made based on cost and the level-of-service expectations for the applications we wanted to virtualize. The solution met our needs for our many workloads that had lower resource requirements. At that point, it was Virtual Server 2005. We provisioned several virtual machines (VMs) on each host server and used Windows Datacenter Edition to reduce VM licensing costs. And we had great success in meeting our goals.

The product slowed growth in our data center by providing a platform for new server installs as well as by giving us a virtualization migration path for older physical servers. The environment grew slowly at first, but we showed stability and substantial cost savings, both of which managers love. Managerial confidence in the environment grew, and when new features and releases of Hyper-V emerged, the stage was set to bring additional server workloads into the virtual environment.

Getting buy-in for virtualization deployments
It is hard to believe, but management sometimes gives a consultant's advice priority over in-house experience and knowledge. Thus, if server virtualization is proposed from the top down, finding friends in the industry is critical. Identifying those in your industry who have implemented server virtualization or any technology can help in two ways. They can provide guidance for technical questions and can share their pain points. You can cite the problems of others in your industry as reasons why an implementation should not slow down. Citing this evidence can give you time to build the base of the project, show stability and build confidence in the technology.

Even though server virtualization has been around for some time, many organizations have just gotten into the game. The "virtuophobia" of some managers continues to pose an obstacle to virtualization adoption. Positive exposure to server virtualization helps bring management on board. After that, getting vendor acceptance of virtual server technology is the next step. But for this next step to succeed, management needs to be committed to your virtual server environment.

About the author
Rob McShinsky is a senior systems engineer at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and has more than 12 years of experience in the industry -- including a focus on server virtualization since 2004. He has been closely involved with Microsoft as an early adopter of Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, as well as a customer reference. In addition, he blogs at VirtuallyAware.com, writing tips and documenting experiences with various virtualization products.

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