Virtually Speaking: Virtualizing in the Real World

By James Maguire (Send Email)
Posted Jan 12, 2007


Amy Newman
The size of the enterprise and its server infrastructure have a direct impact on a virtualization effort's success. What is the ideal footprint, and what are the benefits and pitfalls frequently encountered?

Preparing Virtually Speaking involves reading through other sites that regularly cover the virtualization market. Sometimes what we find is interesting enough to pass along. The following is an excerpt from an article that ran on Datamation in December. The complete article is available, here.

Is Virtualization Right for Us?

Two key factors tend to influence how successful companies are with virtualization, according to Info-Tech, an IT research firm based in Canada. Info-Tech conducted a study of this technology and found that they are:

  1. Size of enterprise Very large companies may encounter some headaches in implementation. Virtualization shakes up the existing data system, so the established hierarchies in large enterprises may resist its full use. Conversely, very small firms may not be able to justify the expense. The "sweet spot" is companies with between 100 and 5,000 employees.

    Although virtualization is more common in larger companies, the percentage of their infrastructure that's virtualized is far lower.

  2. Number of servers While 15 or more servers creates a "sweet spot" of cost justification, a company needs 30 or more servers to fully realize virtualization's benefits.

    Virtualization doesn't reduce total software costs and actually increases software expense. But IT departments attempting to steer upper management toward virtualization can tout its hardware savings. Info-Tech estimates a 40 percent to 75 percent savings in acquiring hardware and a 25 percent to 50 percent savings in monthly maintenance costs.

    And, virtualization reduces the data center "footprint," by enabling a smaller rack space and lower cooling/electrical costs.

Benefits

Info-Tech's research points out that real success with virtualization — truly realizing all its benefits — means success at three levels.

  • Tangible benefits The company sees real bottom line costs saving on an ongoing basis. Existing staff can be used more efficiently with fewer boxes to oversee.

  • Intangible benefits The company sees a boost in efficiency, business continuity (less server downtime) and disaster recovery (a more robust back-up system afforded by virtualization). Other intangibles include a system more easily managed, a separation of hardware and software layers, and control over "server sprawl."

  • Strategic benefits The company can realistically see benefits to its long term business goals from virtualization. Key point: for many companies, virtualization helps them treat their internal infrastructure as a service rather than a mountain of hardware.

Common Pitfalls

As enterprises proceed boldly toward full implementation, they must be wary of certain pitfalls:

    Staff Reductions Don't count on much (or any) staff reduction from virtualization. Although the firms Info-Tech surveyed were able to use fewer boxes, the IT staff overseeing them still had plenty of responsibilities.

  • Huge Consolidation Don't assume you're going to realize a gargantuan server consolidation from virtualization — although you might. Some IT departments dream of a 10 to 1 or even 12 to 1 (or more) reduction in servers. Realistically, among the firms Info-Tech spoke with, average consolidation was in the 6 to 1 range.

  • I/O Bottlenecks It's possible your servers will encounter bottlenecks in their I/O capacity. Sure, virtualization allows you to load up a single server with multiple operating systems and a handful of muscular apps. But at some point, that server's I/O capacity could run into a bottleneck if you try to route too much data, too fast, through it.

  • Licensing headaches "If you have virtualization running on a [4-processor] server, you may have a virtual machine using one processor," Brudzynski says. "But when you go to Oracle and say 'I'd like to buy a license for my processor, they'll say 'Well, how many are in the machine?' So even though you may only be using one, they'll charge you for four."

In short, "It's possible in some cases that when you virtualize, if you're not careful, your license costs may go up."

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

James Maguire is the managing editor of Datamation.

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