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In organizations' mad rush to virtualize their IT infrastructure, some are running into unforeseen obstacles that cause them to put the brakes on virtualization deployments, sometimes indefinitely. This phenomenon, known as "virtualization stall," has more to do with psychology than technology, but it could potentially erode confidence in virtualization and slow growth of cloud computing.
According to solution providers, virtualization stall has several root causes: Some companies are unwilling or afraid to virtualize their tier one business applications. Others balk because of standards compliance issues related to data backup in virtualized infrastructure. Still others are disappointed when the cost efficiencies they've seen from server virtualization don't materialize on the desktop side, or when performance isn't up to snuff.
But the most common virtualization stall scenario begins when organizations start from the bottom up with virtualization, deploying it in piecemeal fashion for small, specific workloads. The cost benefits become quickly apparent, and companies increase the scope of their virtualization efforts, but they often fail to account for the business impact the technology can exert on operations, particularly in terms of roles, responsibilities and accountability.
"No one would ever say, 'Let's deploy an enterprise application from SAP or Oracle for a small point solution, and if it runs well we'll expand it.' But virtualization is deployed that way every single day," said Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization practices at INX, a Houston, Texas-based solution provider.
Mike Strohl, president of Entisys, a Concord, Calif.-based virtualization VAR, says virtualization stall is more about the business and organizational impact the technology exerts than about the technology itself. "It's a matter of how you transform the business to manage the technology, as opposed to using technology to manage the business," he said.
In the absence of central planning and oversight from IT, management headaches can ensue due to the proliferation of virtual machines, Strohl added. "You’re changing the way you do things -- suddenly you take a desktop image and stick it in the server infrastructure. That one thing can generate months of conversation because now you've got two groups that are fighting over responsibility," he said.
Early adopters of server virtualization have been wowed by the return on investment and eager to keep the ball rolling by expanding company-wide virtualization deployments. Nick Bock, CEO and co-founder of Five Nines Technology Group, a Lincoln, Neb.-based solution provider, has seen an acceleration of this trend, known as server sprawl, in companies where such decisions don't require CFO authorization.
"As a solution provider, you can put a virtual solution in place for a company with 15 servers, and then touch base with them six months later and they've got 25 servers," Bock said.
Virtual infrastructure functions well in environments with sufficient storage, memory and processing power. But new virtual server deployments can alter these balances and lead to performance issues. The good news, according to Bock, is that these issues are avoidable when proper planning measures are taken.
"It simply requires discussion and consultation ahead of time," said Bock. "You need to put a process in place for new servers to be implemented. If systems administrators are left to own means, soon you will have 10 servers on network that may be taking up resources."
Next: Virtualization Stall On The Desktop Side