Virtual recalibration

Enterprise IT departments have accepted – or, arguably, created – huge inefficiency for decades. While virtualisation technologies provide welcome relief from this situation for many organisations, plenty of others find that virtualisation comes with management issues of its own.

At Information Age’s latest reader lunch, where attendees discussed how to maximise the potential of virtualisation, attitudes were unanimously positive towards a technology that, for once, seems to be delivering – or maybe even over-delivering – on the hype.

One attendee, the IT director of a large public sector organisation (which uses a staggering 11,000 applications) explained the appeal. “We already have so much equipment across the organisation,” he said. “Virtualisation is a way to make better use of the infrastructure in which we have already invested.”

This message was echoed by the UK IT manager of an investment bank, where demand from power users for ever more computing power had led to runaway hardware costs. After virtualising the desktop environment, the IT department can now allocate resources as and when they are truly needed.

“It has allowed us to manage hardware costs in a much more granular way,” the IT manager said. He added that it also greatly reduced the time and expense required to provision new employees’ environments or move them to new desks or locations.

Furthermore, the benefits of virtualisation have yet to be exhausted, even by organisations whose use of the technology has been cutting edge. “There is huge potential yet,” relayed the IT head of a large multi-national financial services organisation that has already virtualised its entire desktop environment.

Fear of the unknown

Amid enthusiasm for virtualisation, attendees also observed that the increased complexity and distribution of software resources was cause for some concern.

At one local authority, virtualisation made it difficult for IT staff to assess the impact of hardware changes on application performance. It was not clear which software depended on which hardware.

The caution surrounding desktop virtualisation mirrors classic concerns relating to IT centralisation – departmental heads perceive relocation of data as a loss of control. “It would be hard to persuade our German office that data has to go through London,” said the European managing director of a global insurance provider.

Virtualisation is feared by some end-users as it moves data away from their sphere of influence, according to an employee of a major IT services provider. It requires “a leap of faith”, he said. Spreading systems around a globally distributed infrastructure can raise data protection and privacy issues, as local laws can often contradict each other.

While the assembled selection of IT managers and directors were positive about the impact of virtualisation on the infrastructure, some doubted suppliers would allow the dramatic cost reductions to continue unchecked. “If the amount we pay to suppliers is reduced by virtualisation,” said one attendee, “they’ll increase their margin elsewhere.”

However, attendees did see in virtualisation an opportunity to deliver what IT often fails to achieve, as a business user from the insurance sector explained. “In decades of IT investment, the expense ratio of the industry has not markedly decreased,” he said. “Improving efficiency using IT more intelligently is long overdue.”

Further reading

Securing virtual environments What can organisations do to ensure virtualisation initiatives are not compromising their security regimes?

The virtual licensing hurdle Licensing software on virtual machines brings fresh challenges, says Gartner’s Frank DeSalvo

Find more stories in the Systems Management Briefing Room

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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