infoTECH Spotlight Magazine

infoTECH Magazine

Feature Story

April 01, 2011

Dispelling the Convolution Myths of Virtualization

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of InfoTECH SPOTLIGHT


Virtualization and cloud management solutions can simplify how IT is managed, accelerate IT service delivery, increase operational efficiency, automatically assure compliance, and reduce business risks. With all of these benefits, how can firms avoid struggling with the technical and organizational changes that virtualization brings?

With CIOs charged with cutting costs in a still uncertain economy, server virtualization is a growing reality in data centers, and the economics are firmly behind the trend. Server virtualization reduces the numbers and types of servers that support business applications, helping companies to achieve significant cost savings.

Server virtualization has reduced server counts and improved usage efficiency, but it also creates far greater complexity in the data center – rather than a few dozen servers, administrators must now deal with hundreds or thousands of virtual machines (VMs).

“Virtualization is allowing more resources to be allocated toward innovation and improving business operations,” says Clive Hallatt, senior director of alliances and business development at Force10 Networks (News - Alert).

In an interview with InfoTech Spotlight, Hallatt explained the three layers of virtualization:

1)      Server virtualization;

2)      Network virtualization; and

3)      Storage virtualization.

Server virtualization is by all accounts driving the market today, but all three areas are key considerations for adoption, but as Hallatt explains, “The network is the last part of the technology stack to be virtualized.”

Based on a survey of more than 400 IT organizations currently deploying server virtualization, IDC (News - Alert) recently found that customers are looking to not only increase the penetration of virtual servers within their environment, but also to increase the number of virtual machines per physical server.

IDC forecasts more than 23% of all servers shipped in 2014 will be actively supporting virtual machine technology. In addition, more than 70% of all server workloads installed on new shipments in 2014 will reside in a virtual machine. More than $19 billion will be spent on server hardware in support of these applications. The forecasted $19 billion dollars translates into 36% of all spending for server hardware in 2014 and the 23% of all server shipments will represent 2.2 million physical server hosts.

Further, IDC estimates that 2.2 million physical servers will in reality become as many as 18.4 million logical servers with customers deploying an average of 8.5 virtual machines per physical host by 2014.

“Server virtualization is the ‘killer app’ for the data center and has forever changed IT operations. Most data centers have had a 'virtual first' approach to server deployment for the last three years and this has meant that the majority of application instances now reside inside a virtual machine,” says Michelle Bailey, research vice president, Enterprise Platforms and Datacenter Trends at IDC. “This has profound implications for not just maintenance and management of the datacenter but also adjacent infrastructure such as storage and networking,”

Force10’s Hallatt says this new era of virtualization is also forcing companies to bring IT together in new ways, consolidating server, network and hardware teams.

As Hallatt explains to InfoTech Spotlight, what’s happened over the last five yers is that storage centralization is using software to carve up that storage.

“All of that is great, but it brings challenges; you have less servers but more virtual machines running. That means you have more things to manage, a more complex environement; essentially what you have is a more complex environment, but better coordination between the network,” he added.

Essentially, virtualization lets you run multiple virtual machines on a single physical machine, with each virtual machine sharing the resources of that one physical computer across multiple environments.

In the past, from a organizational perspective, IT had one group managing the network, another managing the server and yet another focused on storage. “They were working in siloes. And they were kept that way,” says Hallatt.

Now companies are bringing those teams together to work as a homogenous unit, which brings its own set of challenges.

“We are seeing virtualziation teams now in companies. First, there is a physical switching infrastructure. These virttual servers also have virtrutal switches; so now the question is ‘who is the administrator of that? Is it the network guys? Is it the server people?’ There are turf wars around that,” Hallatt explains. “We are starting to see people build virtualization teams that are all of those skill sets wrapped into homogenous teams. We are seeing more of a – ‘we need to consider all three pieces. Network, storage, server,’ approach.”

Open Automation

“As the needs of the enterprise begin to turn to management constraints, large virtualization customers will have to begin to more seriously consider investments in automation tools and converged hardware as a means to lower time to deployment and simplify an increasingly complex datacenter infrastructure,” adds Bailey.

Force 10’s open automation framework brings network automation to virtual data center environments, providing a network that is more flexible, available and manageable while reducing operational expenses.

“It’s a set of tools and technology that allows the network to be more integrated in this environment, which grants architectural freedom and customizable scripts,” Hallatt explains. “The virtualization framework is comprised of a suite of network management and architectural tools that promote greater efficiency and flexibility within the data center.”

Since server, storage and network infrastructure can no longer be managed as separate silos; open automation addresses these challenges using industry standards and common industry technology, allowing IT managers to deploy virtualized environments.

“The benefits come from a more flexible network. We end up with a management interface that gives you architectural freedom; and from that, you have automated switch configuration management and customizable scripts,” says Hallatt.

Force10’s Open Automation Framework is comprised of a suite of inter-related network management tools that can be used together or independently. These tools provide data center managers with a complete set of capabilities required in today’s dynamic, virtual data center environments:

  • JumpStart reduces installation time, eliminates configuration errors and enforces standard configurations by automatically configuring network switches.
  • SmartScripts improves network monitoring and management with a robust, Perl/Python scripting environment.
  • HyperLink increases network flexibility by automatically provisioning VLANs when VMs are migrated.
  • SwitchLink simplifies network management by integrating with multiple third party system management tools.

Force10 Networks is also part of industry leader VMWare’s Alliance Affiliate Initiative, which helps IT managers to deploy consolidated, integrated networks that reduce the server hardware and manpower needed to scale networks.

Cost Savings


Virtualization also reduces a company’s physical infrastructure footprint by consolidating excess server and desktop hardware, allowing companies to lower both their capital and operating expenses.

About 70% of a typical IT budget in a non-virtualized datacenter goes towards just maintaining the existing infrastructure, with little left for innovation, according to market leader VMWare.

“Organizations will see CAPEX savings as well as OPEX (News - Alert) because you build a more reliable infrastructure and use your people more efficiently,” says Hallatt. “At the end of the day, we need to really optimize these data centers; they are getting huge. Now we are moving these resources around and in turn, they are more efficient, more agile.”

VMWare customers, for example, typically save 50% to 70% on overall IT costs by consolidating their resource pools and delivering highly available machines with VMware vSphere, a platform that virtualizes business critical applications with dynamic resource pools for flexibility and reliability.


The Future of Virtualization

Standards in virtualization are starting to emerge, such as the IEEE 802.1aq, which Avaya (News - Alert) is now implementing. The IEEE 802.1 aq standard, also known as the Shortest Path Bridging standard, is a straight line approach to help networks take the shortest path between two points.

“We are starting to see the technology become mainstream and see new standards emerging that will enhance these kinds of capabilities,” says Hallatt. “There’s a bigger and bigger drive to get these data centers as efficient as possible – since they consume massive power…the more you can do in terms of agility and flexibility to be efficient, the better off you will be.”

According to Natalie Lambert, director of product marketing at Citrix, desktop virtualization is a top priority for CIOs today because “in all of its various forms, can address some of the biggest business initiatives on the CIO's plate, such as compliance, global expansion, flexible working, consumerization, business continuity...the list goes on,” she recently blogged.

“However, there are still many companies that perceive desktop virtualization as too complex – they have questions around infrastructure investments (servers, storage, networking, etc.) as well as understanding the different software components and endpoints.”

Dell recently announced the availability of Dell Desktop Virtualization Solution (DDVS) built on Citrix XenDesktop. DDVS is a comprehensive solution portfolio that leverages pre-packaged, configured and tested hardware, software and services to help companies adopt and implement desktop virtualization and address the perceived complexity.

And while many IT leaders believe that they have virtualized their x86 servers, technology researcher Gartner (News - Alert) says companies have to plan for two to three times the growth of virtualization in the portfolio.

“Virtualization will continue as the highest-impact issue challenging infrastructure and operations through 2015, changing how you manage, how and what you buy, how you deploy, how you plan and how you charge,” says Philip Dawson, research vice president at Gartner. “Virtualization now drives efficient IT from all angles, including data center design, platform updates, and application and infrastructure modernization, as well as traditional and new delivery models, such as infrastructure utility and cloud computing. However, virtualization does take investment; the savings are not a given.”

Top 5 Reasons to Adopt Virtualization Software


1. Get more out of your existing resources: Pool common infrastructure resources and break the legacy “one application to one server” model with server consolidation.

2. Reduce datacenter costs by reducing your physical infrastructure and improving your server to admin ratio: Fewer servers and related IT hardware means reduced real estate and reduced power and cooling requirements. Better management tools let you improve your server to admin ratio so personnel requirements are reduced as well.

3. Increase availability of hardware and applications for improved business continuity: Securely backup and migrate entire virtual environments with no interruption in service. Eliminate planned downtime and recover immediately from unplanned issues.

4. Gain operational flexibility: Respond to market changes with dynamic resource management, faster server provisioning and improved desktop and application deployment.

5. Improve desktop manageability and security: Deploy, manage and monitor secure desktop environments that users can access locally or remotely, with or without a network connection, on almost any standard desktop, laptop or tablet PC.

Source: VMWare

Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company's strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TMCnet, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi