ServersVirtually Speaking: Reducing the 'Human Factor'

Virtually Speaking: Reducing the ‘Human Factor’

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Amy Newman

Slick virtualization technology is only half the formula for data center automation, and Opsware used its recent analyst day to tout how it addresses the “people challenge.” But first, the skinny on the ServerWatch Product Excellence Awards and Webcasts.

A quick a appetizer before the main course of this week’s column: The nominations process for ServerWatch second annual Product Excellence Awards is under way and will continue through April 17 at midnight EDT.

Because virtualization is playing an increasing critical role (and consuming equally valuable dollars), it has the honor of having two categories this year: Best Virtualization Environment and Best Virtualization Management Tool.

Other categories include Communications Servers (think, mail, IM and collaboration), Storage Systems, Blade Servers and Server Appliances. To qualify, a product must have been released or significantly upgraded between March 2, 2006 and March 1, 2007.

Feel free to nominate products in as many categories as you see fit — after you nominate your preferred virtualization offerings, of course.

Not sure which virtualization offerings are top notch enough to be considered excellent? Tune into “Managing Your Virtualization Infrastructure: Tools for Success,” a free Webcast about virtualization I’ll be delivering on April 11 at 2 p.m. EDT over at Enterprise networking Planet.

The Webcast will look at ways to manage your infrastructure as well as how to evaluate and select the right management tool. Although the Webcast is free, you must register in advance.

Virtualization Helps Bring Zero Latency

Speaking of virtualization management, Opsware is one vendor banking on the chaos continuing to grow. Last week, the company hosted its annual analyst day in New York City. Dubbed “Accelerate to Zero” (as in zero latency within the data center), it was Opsware’s chance to show the world why data center automation is vital and how it is making money by providing it.

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What’s where and who has access to it is difficult to wrangle to start with in any environment, whether physical or virtual. Opsware is in the vendor camp that gives equal weight to the box and the virtual server. It’s also aware that virtualization accentuates the need for keeping tabs on network resources. Then there’s the “hurry up and wait” human side of things.

Vice President of Marketing Eric Vishria attributes the time lag “not to the tasks themselves, but to waiting for people to do them.”

Opsware saw this as the next challenge, and iConclude as the answer. In early March, it acquired the run book automation vendor. Opsware and iConclude had already been partnered for several months, so the acquisition was hardly a surprise.

While Opsware oversees automation as it relates to the infrastructure side of things, iConclude automates the human process side: the time lost while Mary waits Jim to respond to her e-mail approving a virtual server, and then Mary fills in the request form for the IS organization to allocate the space and everyone waits some more. This can now be done within a single interface with some actions (in this example, the actual partitioning) performed automatically.

This theoretically eliminates the latency. Or at least the human component of it.

The human component is also the complicating factor when it comes installing and configuring. Technically, an enterprise can be up and running in a single day, Vishria said. Configuring and tweaking things to suit your organization and its needs presents the biggest challenge, he said, and “could take weeks to months, depending on the size of the organization.”

In other words, this is no small undertaking and should not be entered half-heartedly.

iConclude, which currently has 35 employees and 15 customers, according to Vishria, is sold as a separate product now. It integrates with Opsware’s other products and will soon be available as a part of the “Opsware System” suite.

Next up on the Opsware data center roadmap? A storage automation system that “maps storage from an application perspective,” is scheduled to be released later this year, Vishria said. It will provide information such as, “if you work on a given switch, which business applications are impacted,” he said.

A beta program for the storage system is set to begin in the next few months, Vishria said.

Vishria described for ServerWatch several issues unique to virtualization the company has encountered: server sprawl — the hypervisor itself is a layer that must be managed, and complex dependencies that must be mapped and managed. On the upside, however, a virtualized environment has the opportunity to be more dynamic than a purely physical one, which means, Vishria said, there is more to track.

Which results in more business for Opsware.

Meanwhile, at the foundational end of the virtual spectrum, Virtual Iron and SWsoft were tapped as charter members for HP’s just-announced ProLiant Partner Program. The vendors will now have access to HP’s Industry Standard Server labs as well as to its sales and marketing resources. HP will also be running case studies about the virtual environments on several HP rackmount and blade offerings, Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer, told ServerWatch.

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

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