Getting real about virtual

Paul Court, technology services director of data centre hosting provider Telecity, warns IT professionals against getting too carried away by virtualisation.

“Quite a few times we’ve seen projects end up taking more power because of the machines they’ve added,” he says. “[Virtualisation] will not save money, and will not reduce power, unless you decide first what you want to do with it.”

Court advocates that any virtualisation project must start from a business perspective. “Virtualisation is seen as a bit of a Holy Grail, but you have to look under the bonnet. Clearly, IT people need to be involved, but it has to start from a business angle,” he says.

The key is deciding what business benefits you want from the outset, Court says, and demonstrating them to the business. “What do you actually want to virtualise, and is there an obvious target: production, workstations, disaster recovery? Find a good place to start a test environment as a demo for management.”

Letting business know what it can expect from the outset also allows “some really interesting conversations” about some of the other aspects of virtualisation – things like space, power and environmental benefits. “A lot of the time these projects can go steaming through IT and miss some obvious wins,” Court says.

Failing to get business support at the beginning is an excellent way to kill a project. “The virtual machine (VM) concept is still alien to many people, and the concept of interdepartmental systems sitting on one machine frightens the living daylights out of many of them,” Court explains.

Once you know what you’re going to do, you have to start looking at the physical ability to implement it.

“Blades are the obvious example,” Court says. “I can build a system running 104 [virtual] servers, so if I stack five systems up in a rack I can get 520 servers – superb, but I may only need 10. And there are very few places where you can stack five sets of blade servers running at 24 kilowatts.”

Court emphasises that virtualising a system also makes it more exposed. “Historically, people are used to single applications running on a single server. But when one server has five to six applications on it, you need to create awareness of the impact if one application ‘owner’ decides to reboot. And the box really has to be fit for purpose. If that thing blows up, you’ve affected five times more areas of the business.”

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