Planning and preparing to go virtual

Preparation and a willingness to invest upfront are required to make virtualisation deployments a success.

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Planning and preparing to go virtual
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By  Keri Allan Published  July 24, 2012

Preparation and a willingness to invest upfront are required to make virtualisation deployments a success.

Virtually all enterprise level companies have tried some sort of virtualisation of their server environment, and the technology is making increasing inroads at the SMB level. According to research from VMware and Canalys, across EMEA (including the UAE) the adoption of virtualisation is accelerating. As it currently stands, of those that have adopted virtualisation, 48% have virtualised the basic IT infrastructure of their businesses, and over the next two years, 75% of these are expected to expand their virtualisation programs to include business-critical applications and more.

Many SMBs may be cautious about ‘going virtual’ but as Adam Wolf, sales director of BIOS Middle East highlights, the benefits to be had make taking any risks worthwhile.

“There are the usual barriers to entry, yes. These are things like upfront investment in infrastructure, and staff training. However, the reduction in the total cost of ownership alone outweighs these concerns,” he explains. “[Plus] many of the big names in virtualisation, such as VMware, EMC and NetApp offer solutions that are specifically targeted at SMBs.”

“I think the factor holding back most SMBs when it comes to virtualisation is cost,” continues Samer Ismair, MENA systems engineer at Brocade. “For such organisations, virtualisation may seem to be an expensive solution during the implementation. But they need to realise that it is an investment which pays for itself in the long run.

“Running fewer physical servers means less cooling, less power requirements, fewer software licenses and lower maintenance overheads. Furthermore, with the subscription model, allocating budget to virtualisation projects is now much more feasible even for SMEs,” he says.

Once that fear of the unknown has been overcome and companies are ready to take the leap into virtualisation, it is important to identify which infrastructure(s) will benefit the most. George DeBono, general manager, Middle East and Africa at Red Hat, believes there are two main considerations.

“The first is to look at the infrastructure that the organisation already has in place right now. If it so happens that the infrastructure is running at very low capacity for most of the month, then that is rife with potential to be virtualised as you can then bring more workload onto that box,” he says.  “The second consideration deals with future planning in the case where the organisation is looking for new infrastructure to deploy. Then, from a load perspective or from a configuration perspective, the organisation really needs to make sure that it is looking for a combination of both hardware and software virtualisation.”

“This is because hardware, which is predominantly chip based, has been designed to leverage system performance while utilising some of the software virtualisation technologies. Similarly, in the case of software virtualisations, these solutions look to make the most use of hardware virtualisation.”

If companies are willing to put in the time and money to ‘go virtual’ it is also important for them to learn how to get the most from the environment. Firstly, the IT team needs to have a well thought out plan in place which will help guide them through the entire process.

“Success is always in the planning; too many firms rush into virtualisation solutions without fully understanding the benefits they want or need to realise to achieve alignment with the goals of business,” says Chris Hazel, chief information officer, MEEZA.

“We all need to have a clear set of benefits for virtualisation which could be cost reduction or greater agility; the question needs to be how much of a reduction or how much extra agility means success? Decide how will this be measured.”

Companies also need to understand basic changes that virtualisation might bring. Osama M Al Omari of Devoteam warned: “Whilst virtualization has introduced more utilization and reduced costs, it still has aspects that need to be monitored closely. One example is power consumption, in most cases, virtualization requires more energy to run servers, this by itself imposes the requirement of more cooling and hence more energy.”

Hazel urges IT managers to know their environment inside out so as to have a baseline for moving forward with projects. Virtualisation of the server estate will also alter the network’s dynamics, so consider the congestion that may be created and the impact on storage each time you make a change.

“If you’re taking a layered approach to virtualisation through servers, networks and storage, you need to be able to track the development and status of your whole environment, not just the virtualised elements,” Hazel says. “A former CIO once told me ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it, if you can’t control it you can’t manage it, if you can’t manage it go home because you don’t have a job’. Never be pushed into assumptions when virtualising an environment; the senior management must demand visibility.”

Many solutions can also be fine tuned to benefit a company even better. As Goksel Topbas, server and tools business group lead at Microsoft Gulf, notes, there are many tools out there to help with this task.

“As an example, Hyper-v is part of Microsoft Windows Server and it’s free. It can really help to build scalable, advanced, virtualised infrastructure along with System Center Server,” he says. “SMEs can adopt the same enterprise scalable technology with no additional cost, but proper planning, assessment and implementation will play a key role to get the greatest benefits out of this.”

Plus, in recent years many major vendors have taken steps to simplify the process of fine-tuning.

“EMC has developed reference architectures called VSPEX,” says Wolf. “VSPEX are pre-validated designs for the virtualisation of servers and desktops using EMC products. They are also designed to work alongside other major networking, server and virtualisation vendors’ products. This means customers don’t need to be concerned with solution design. They simply have to pick the workload that is right for them and order the solution with the components they require. Everything after that is plug and play. In a virtualised environment, time to market, research and development, and uptime are all improved.”

In the case of virtualisation, the financial benefits are well proven, with hundreds of thousands of organisations having already embraced the technology and reaped the rewards.

“It’s that ability to manage the costs that make virtualisation the sort of technology smaller businesses need to be considering,” notes Sam Tayan, regional manager, VMware MENA. “At a time when we’re all trying to keep costs under control, anything that can help manage outgoings in any part of the business could be the difference between success and failure,” he concludes.

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