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How To Build A Virtualization Practice

A solid hardware foundation, customers who use servers and a couple of smart engineers are about all it seems to take for a solution provider looking to add server virtualization to its offerings.

A solid hardware foundation, customers who use servers and a couple of smart engineers are about all it seems to take for a solution provider looking to add server virtualization to its offerings.

That, plus a quick call to one of the server virtualization vendors, all of which are looking to recruit partners both large and small.

No one can use a lack of a market as an excuse for not plunging feet-first into server virtualization. Indeed, this is one of the fastest-growing segments of the IT industry.

IDC estimated that the number of virtual servers deployed will rise 40.6 percent annually through 2010, with the result that 1.7 million physical servers will be shipped to virtualize 7.9 million logical servers.

While the market is still young and far from saturated, that is no reason to hesitate. Opportunities are available today to help customers virtualize their server infrastructures in order to cut the number of servers they require, and with it the management headaches, power costs and cooling costs associated with server sprawl.

Before anything else, a solution provider needs to get interested in server virtualization, a step that as often as not comes from customers pushing their partners into the market.

That is what happened to Greg Knieriemen, vice president of marketing at Chi, a Cleveland-based storage solution provider that recently signed with VMware. "All our storage customers are implementing server virtualization," he says. "We had to get into server virtualization to support our customers."

For another solution provider, server virtualization was the way to reinvent itself to meet changing business requirements. Virtual Technologies was born from another solution provider, Client Systems, which is the last authorized distributor for the HP3000 series of midrange servers, says Dave Spears, vice president and general manager of the Denver-based solution provider, which started with virtualization about six months ago.

Spears says with the winding down of the HP3000, his company asked itself what it should do next. With a bit of luck, it managed to acquire the domain name, and a new server virtualization solution provider was born, he says.

Consiliant Technologies, Irvine, Calif., felt market pressure to get into server virtualization, says Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner. "We needed to get into virtualization," he says. "A lot of our competitors have already done it."

Jeremy Bridgman, systems group associate at Quantum Data Systems, a Bakersfield, Calif.-based solution provider, signed up with VMware recently specifically to help a particular customer.

"We had an opportunity to serve a client whose strategy in 2008 is to consolidate their servers and connect them to a SAN," Bridgman says. "So to serve the customer, we took VMware's online course for two days. We were probably going to do it soon anyway because it's a powerful product."

Next: Are You Qualified? ARE YOU QUALIFIED?
After deciding virtualization is for you, it is necessary to sign with a vendor and get qualified, Spears says. It is also important to get implementation experience, or at least find the right partner to do the implementation, he adds. Virtual Technologies is partnering with a third-party company with experience with VMware, XenSource and Virtual Iron. "This gives us the services ability and the credibility," Spears says.

In addition to getting certified and trained in virtualization software, it is important to collect as much information as possible, Spears notes. That includes reading white papers and competitive analyses, as well as working with research firms such as Forrester, Lehman Brothers and the Burton Group.

In the short time since Optimus Solutions started with server virtualization, it has had nine of its employees certified on the technical side and 20 on the sales side for VMware, says Kevin Houston, business development manager and virtualization practice manager at Optimus, Norcross, Ga. "You have to embrace the technology," he says.

Once a solution provider gets its sales and technical people certified, it needs to look at the tools that can help evaluate a customer's server environment, Houston says. Optimus uses IBM's Consolidation Discovery and Analysis Tool (CDAT), VMware's Capacity Planner and PlateSpin's PowerRecon. Each tool has its specific uses--if the customer runs an all-IBM shop, Optimus will use IBM's CDAT, but for open environments the choice is more likely to be VMware's, he notes.

While not absolutely necessary, having a strong hardware foundation with a vendor like IBM or Hewlett-Packard is also helpful, Houston says. That will help in determining the right hardware to use for the virtualization.

"Not everything needs to be done on blade servers, or on four-way servers," he says. "It comes down to what customers are trying to accomplish. If they want to cut their footprint, blades may be better. But if they are looking for the most bang for the buck, four-way servers are better."

Virtual Technologies has also established relationships with power utilities that offer rebates to customers who cut down on the number of servers they own, Spears says. These might include, for instance, Pacific Gas & Electric in California, Xcel Energy in Minneapolis and PacifiCorp in Oregon.

Quantum Data Systems currently partners with another solution provider to do the installation and training of server virtualization while focusing its own resources on sales. Eventually, it may get into deployment, Bridgman says. "If we have many clients looking at working with VMware, we may invest in the VMware Certified Professional certification," he says. "But if it's only one or two clients, it's more beneficial to use the third party."

Next: Which Vendor? WHICH VENDOR?
Some vendors such as VMware are harder to sign up with than others, Kadlec says. Therefore, he suggests going beyond online sign-up. "We met VMware at Avnet's New Frontiers conference," he says. "It helps to get with them face-to-face."

The server virtualization vendors each take a slightly different approach to training and certification, with some offering courses free of charge and others charging for the training.

Solution providers with server and storage infrastructure experience will find server virtualization a natural fit, says Carl Eschenbach, executive vice president of worldwide field operations at VMware. "If you have a server business and knowledge about storage and networking, it's a pretty easy migration to server virtualization," Eschenbach says.

VMware has a couple of programs for solution providers looking to get started. The first is the VMware Sales Professional (VSP) program, which offers four to six hours of online self-training, Eschenbach says. "We've seen partners sign up, take the VSP course, talk intelligently to customers within a week and close their first sale in one or two weeks," he says.

Solution providers that want to implement VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) infrastructure and do customer training will need the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification, he says. This includes a four-day hands-on training course taken at an authorized training center at a cost of $2,700. After completing the course, partners can take the VCP test at $175 per attempt.

Solution providers that get only the VSP certification can partner with other solution providers to do the implementation, Eschenbach says. "Or it's intuitive enough that, if you have a technical background, you may be able to implement it relatively easily," he says.

Virtual Iron offers Web-based training and testing, as well as hands-on tools, says Bill Simpson, vice president of channel sales. "In general, if [VARs] have some grounding in technology, within a day they can be very competent with our solution," he says. "But this doesn't make them an expert. If they want, we offer a three-day training that can make them an expert."

Virtual Iron does not charge for the courses, but that doesn't make them free, Simpson warns. "That's a billable person getting the training," he says.

Tech Data's Advanced Infrastructure Solutions group, which is the exclusive distributor for XenSource and Virtual Iron, and which also offers SWsoft's Parallels as well as VMware through reseller agreements with HP and IBM, hosts Webinars and recruitment programs for solution providers, says Pete Peterson, senior vice president and general manager of the group.

Tech Data also has internal people certified with most of those vendors' software to help solution providers with technical expertise, Peterson says.

Jack Zubarev, COO and founder of SWsoft, which offers both the Virtuozzo and the Parallels virtualization product lines, says that moving to server virtualization is "a natural step" for VARs that provide services like capacity planning, disaster recovery, infrastructure management or that design infrastructures.

Solution providers with infrastructure experience typically do not require extensive training, Zubarev says. But those that provide services related to ERP or business line applications will find it more difficult. "So virtualization is not for every VAR," he says.

SWsoft offers sales and technical certification programs for solution providers, Zubarev says. Those with experience may be able to get certified free of charge. Otherwise, the company offers for-charge courses on operating systems, networking, SANs, and designing or architecting infrastructure in conjunction with other vendors like Microsoft, he says.

Solution providers that sell storage and servers and that have professional services capability other than maintenance will find server virtualization a natural progression, Simpson says.

Virtualization software can be easily downloaded to get customers up and running quickly, Simpson says. "The key is mapping it to applications and SLAs [service-level agreements]," he says. "That's where solution providers add value."

Next: Short And Sweet: Guide To Server Virtualization? SHORT AND SWEET: Guide To Server Virtualization

FOLLOW THESE steps and you'll be on your way to building a virtualization practice.

1. GET THE VIRTUALIZATION BUG: Maybe you see the market is hot, maybe you are being pushed by your customers. In either case, get going!

2. CONTACT THE VENDOR(S): VMware has the vast majority of the market, but several other vendors are growing fast with lower-cost products and offer solution providers a chance to differentiate their products. Some of these other vendors include XenSource, Virtual Iron and SWsoft.

3. GET QUALIFIED AND CERTIFIED: It may be as simple as a phone call, if you have the right experience. Sales certification is quick and easy, usually taking just a few hours online to learn the material and take a test. For services and training certification, the process may take a couple of days. Server virtualization vendors each take a different approach to certification and training, with some offering free courses and others charging for them.

4. KNOW THE MARKET: Your vendor can point you to a wide range of market information, including white papers and research reports, to give you a breadth of knowledge. Such research firms include the Burton Group, Forrester Research and Lehman Brothers.

5. PARTNER UP: The fastest way to get into server virtualization is to let someone else do the hard work. Once you get your sales certification/authorization, you can find other solution providers that will do the implementation and training for you.

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