Project Practitioners > To Virtualize Or Not To Virtualize, That Is The Question

To Virtualize Or Not To Virtualize, That Is The Question

By Niel Nickolaisen

One on my goal as an IT leader has been to ensure that IT does not get in the way of the business. For that reason, I was an early fan of virtualization. With virtualization, the days of telling the business they have to wait while we size, order, receive, configure, and test a server are gone. What used to take weeks can now be done in hours. But, in my constant quest to make sure that I am not too much on the bleeding edge, I surveyed my CIO peers to see what steps that had and had not taken with virtualization. Here is what I learned.

Mission Critical Virtualization

In the early days of virtualization, most of us were reluctant to virtualize our mission critical servers. Oh, there were a few of the bold and the brave that had virtualized their production database and Exchange servers but most of us had not yet taken the plunge. That is no longer the case. Most of us have now taken that plunge. I spoke with one CIO that has now virtualized his entire server farm. This includes multiple Exchange servers (supporting thousand of email accounts), his production database servers, and his Citrix servers.

Virtualization Equals Availability?

Now that we are virtualizing our mission critical, the-business-is-at-risk-if-they-fail systems, we are using virtualization features to improve the availability of our most critical services. About 25% of the CIO's I queried reported that they were using virtualization (both server and storage) to re-define how they handle disaster recovery and business continuity (DR/BC). The following is a typical response:

"Our IT DR/BC strategy now relies on server virtualization and we are continuing to go forward with an enhanced server virtualization for our ERP environment. We use our storage management software utilities to secure data file backups and synchronize data files between our primary data center (DC) and the recovery center (RC).  We continue to advance our virtualization for DR/BC. "

Those that now incorporate virtualization for DR/BC have learned that they can quickly back-up, replicate, and restore not only data but servers as well.

Virtualization Equals Agility?

In addition to the expected benefits of virtualization (reduced server counts, reduced maintenance costs, improved server utilization and power savings, et cetera), our peer CIO's sing the praises of agility they can now offer their internal customers. For example,

Accounting wants to post a very complex journal entry but wants to do so in a test or pilot mode. This will allow them to understand the ripple effects of this journal entry on all of the legal entities in the consolidated reporting ledger. Using virtualization, IT can clone the ERP production server and let Accounting post the complex transaction in the cloned environment and observe the full impact. Taking this approach is much less time consuming, should there be issues with the journal entry, than reversing the complex transaction in the production system. 

Cloud Computing, Virtualization's Logical Next Step?

I have always been jealous of "futurists". It seems like a great job. You read a little, think a little, and prognosticate about the megatrends that will drive our future environments and decisions. From a trend perspective, it seems to me that one logical outcome of virtualization is a more willing acceptance of cloud computing. We started dabbling with virtual servers and storage, liked what we saw, and then expanded the use of virtualization. We now seem very comfortable with the idea of multiple, virtual servers residing on a small set of physical servers. Now that we are comfortable with this, it should matter less to us where the physical servers reside. So, why not have them reside somewhere that provides additional benefits? For example, we are currently very serious about moving our DR/BC into the cloud. Why have my own hot, warm, or cold site when all three exist in the cloud? A few years ago, this would have been heresy. But, once we made the mental transition to virtual servers, it is no longer such a wild idea.

Overall, it seems we are taking advantage of the options and alternatives that virtualization provides us to streamline and improve IT operations. And, based on my informal survey, we are being creative in where and how we apply virtualization. For those that have not yet taken the plunge, what are you waiting for?

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