Virtualisation: Removing The Rose Tinted Glasses

There is no doubt that virtualisation has found its place in the IT manager’s, CIO’s and CFO’s heart―increased efficiency, cost savings, energy savings―it’s a match made in heaven. Or so it was a few years ago, when IT managers first began to flirt with the idea of implementing a virtualised infrastructure. However, fast forward to today and for many, the honeymoon period may be over.

It’s estimated that in 2009, over 50% of companies implemented server virtualisation. Many of the benefits immediately felt by both the IT and finance departments, most notably the promise of considerable cost savings, have fallen away with the ongoing long-term demands the technology has on IT infrastructure.

Many IT managers are not generally convinced that virtualisation in its current set-up has the ability to scale effectively and continue to support their business and IT needs in years to come.

Any consideration of IT projects must include both the long and short term pros and cons, and unfortunately there can easily be a miscalculation of the technology required to support a virtualised environment. Though virtualisation sounds simple, the management challenge can be complex.

Scaling a virtualised infrastructure more often than not requires three things; one: a high density environment, which in turn requires; two: investment in new hardware, and three: the ability to manage and maintain the set-up through training in virtualisation software/operating systems.

Implementing high density may sound easy, however creating the environment with the appropriate power and cooling levels are not readily found in most in-house communication cabinets or server rooms. Investment in accommodating this is also significant―from adjusting air conditioning units to ensuring additional power supply is available.

But perhaps more of a challenge is an understanding of the platform on which virtualisation operates. Any in-house maintenance to the system must be undertaken by a professional trained in virtualisation, a fact most CFOs were probably not aware of when signing up to the technology. Calling trained consultants to visit in-house on an ad-hoc basis can be costly, but can end up being a necessity without the right partnerships in place.

Even more worryingly, the need for this specific training is creating a skills gap in the IT workforce, it will be increasingly included in IT qualifications and training, but for the IT managers already using virtualisation this means a secondary plea to the CFO for funding.

These demands on budget and skills can turn the rosy relationship the IT manager enjoyed with virtualisation increasingly sour, and for many they may reach ‘breaking point’ two years after implementation. It’s at this point where infrastructure setup must be reviewed to ensure it has the scalability and the capacity to continue to support growing businesses and increasing amounts of data.

To avoid a nasty surprise, organisations must plan further into the future, even though it may seem too early to think very far ahead. It is important to ensure the IT manager is prepared for the potential pitfalls of reaching the limits of the system. Central to this is ensuring the right partnerships and source of expertise is available.

The trend towards high density hosting to support the ever increasing amounts of data and reliance on the internet means these considerations are a necessity, so a set-up where high density and its requirements as well as the relevant expertise will become even more important.

Though virtualisation is often a sensible option, many people have reached the realisation that it is not as smooth and easy to manage as first thought. The solution isn’t about bringing high density into the mix when the system reaches breaking point; rather it is getting the right mix in the first place and ensuring the right pool of expertise is available to assist with this.

However, the situation for many is, like with any normal relationship, about accepting and dealing with failings and shortcomings of a new partner. Virtualisation is not just about cost savings; it requires detailed forward planning, it’s about managing setups that are running out of space whilst making the most efficient use of resources available, effectively judging what the in-house IT setup can cope with, both now and in years to come, and at what point outside help is required.

A relationship with virtualisation in some form is one the IT manager will not be able to avoid, for those with it already in place and for those considering it. For many, through proper planning and a realistic consideration of how much pressure the technology might actually place on the infrastructure, the rose tinted glasses could well stay on for the long haul.

Jason Friedler, head of hosting at Telstra International EMEA, works within Telstra’s Product Management area. He is responsible for developing new products and improving existing ones, based on the requirements of a range of stakeholders.

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