IT Focus Area: infrastructure operations
May 15, 2013
Thorough Virtualization of IT Helps Hybrid Data Center Projects Soar
If you are a business traveler who has been in the workforce for a while, you probably look back nostalgically on the “good old days” of air travel. Up until 2003 or so, when you took your seat on a commercial flight (especially one longer than three hours), there was a good chance you would be able to stretch out across three seats and enjoy the trip in comfort. All of the major airlines were sending many flights to most destinations, so it wasn’t unusual for commercial jets to fly without full capacity.
Today, you rarely see a commercial aircraft that isn’t full. When you get on a flight, one of your biggest hopes (other than getting there safely) is that no one sits in the middle seat so you have more room to stretch out. With the rising costs associated with equipment, jet fuel, maintenance and personnel, along with competitive pressures of keeping prices low, airlines have consolidated flights, changed the extra space and look to fill each flight to capacity before adding another destination (or purchasing another plane). Maximizing capacity is a smart business decision for airlines, even if it means, as a customer, you sit like a contortionist from the time you take your seat until the time you leave it.
The same scenario is playing out now in the information technology (IT) world, only it is called virtualization. Many IT organizations have been virtualizing servers for years. These efforts have provided a major return on investment over using physical servers.
Just like the airlines, IT demands have increased while IT budgets and staff decreased. Enterprises have come to realize they had significant unused capacity sitting in virtualized servers in all those data centers. Resources could be streamlined. By breaking down the “barriers” between those individual components and treating them as one gigantic, virtual pool of computing power, IT organizations would be able to take advantage of all those “empty seats” and start filling them with new applications (sometimes spread across two or more servers). In this way, they can significantly reduce hardware, power, cooling and maintenance staffing costs, and simplify management.
Blue Sky Estimates
That has been the goal, anyway. The reality is a little different. While nearly every enterprise is taking advantage of server virtualization and to some extent application, storage, and network virtualization, most are doing far less than they could.
For example, our clients may believe they are almost 100 percent virtualized. But when we do the analysis, we discover the real figure is more like 40 percent. They are not trying to hide the truth or purposely over-estimate their environment. They just don’t realize there is more they can do.
It could be that they have virtualized the servers, but not touched their storage area network (SAN). Or they could be running more virtual machines than they need to be, or have not even begun to virtualize their desktops. Whatever it is, not knowing what they don’t know can be a huge hindrance in taking the enterprise toward a hybrid data center.
If you do a poor job of virtualizing your environment—not just servers, but storage, network, desktops and other elements too—managing your applications and workloads further up the chain will become exponentially more difficult. You will have more hardware than you need, the maintenance of which will place a heavier burden on your already heavily burdened IT staff. Your data center will take up more real estate than necessary. And your power and cooling costs will be much higher than they should be.
You also risk increasing virtual server sprawl. In that case, while you may not have as many physical machines deployed, you will find yourself managing more virtual machines than are necessary. Each virtual machine uses computing resources. If they’re not being used, or are not removed when they’re no longer needed, they still continue to use resources—like a jet leaving the internal power systems on when it is in the hangar.
If you do a poor job of virutalizing your environment, managing your applications and workloads further up the chain will become exponentially more difficult.
This virtual server sprawl can lead to shortages of computing resources within the organization, and even more significant issues as you try to move toward a cloud infrastructure. Again, it becomes a huge maintenance nightmare that could ground your plans to deliver IT from a basket of service offerings before they ever get off the ground.
Poor virtualization can have other impacts as well. The more individual servers or virtual machines you have to manage, the more breaking points there are for security. There’s even a risk that you could lose control over the environment, with individuals spinning up virtual machines that are not part of the overall plan. Should that occur, you will end up spending a lot of time fixing problems when you move into the convergence, automation and orchestration steps of the hybrid data center.
Creating a Good Flight Plan
It is easy to get caught up in technologies and the benefits they bring. But you have to make sure the business processes are changing with them in order to achieve the full benefit. For example, when you are enabling physical servers, you have different people performing different steps, each of which has to happen in order as they are needed. The facilities people need to run the power and rack the server. When completed, you need someone to cable the server to the switches. Then another person puts the operating system on the box. The networking team has to assign an Internet protocol (IP) address. And the application developers have to build the application. In the end, you are talking about a five to seven-week process.
When organizations start virtualizing their environment, often the only part of the business process they change is the elimination of racking and cabling the server—because there isn’t a physical server anymore. They still follow the other steps, in order and as-needed, which means what used to take five to seven weeks now takes four to five weeks.
Yet in reality, provisioning a virtual machine only takes roughly three to four hours of real work. By changing business processes, such as setting up a pool of 20 IP addresses at a time rather than creating them individually, you can have a virtual machine flying high in half a day, start to finish. Working this way lowers costs while improving time to market—two of the biggest reasons organizations get into virtualization in the first place. That philosophy of pooling work is also aligned with the organizational change of IT being provided from a catalog of standardized services.
If you don’t re-evaluate and adjust your business processes when you virtualize your environment, you won’t achieve nearly the value you could. It will be much more difficult to achieve your goals around mobility, collaboration and big data—the issues that are probably driving you to a hybrid solution in the first place.
If you don't re-evaluate and adjust your business processes when you virutalize your environment, you won't achieve nearly the value you could.
Just like a pilot, as your destination changes, it is important to create and file a new flight plan. Otherwise, you may not get where you want to go.
Making Your Hybrid Data Center Plans Soar
According to Forrester Research and the Hackett Group, IT spending will grow almost twice as fast as IT staffing budgets. That means there will be more technology to manage, and fewer IT staffers available to manage it.
Given Glass’s Law of IT Complexity, which states for every 25 percent increase in functionality in a system, there is a 100 percent increase in the complexity of the system, moving to a hybrid data center model will present huge challenges for any organization. The level of challenges can be reduced, however, by ensuring servers, storage, networks, desktops and other components of the IT ecosystem have been fully virtualized before attempting automation or orchestration. It is the flight insurance you can take out now to ensure your hybrid data center plans soar and your organization reaches its destination safely.
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