Server Virtualization Success Eludes Many IT Organizations

There’s plenty of buzz about server virtualization, but success is not assured.

While organizations are deploying virtualization to improve server and system utilization or improve system up time (while reducing IT costs and improving service levels)—all benefits that are well-aligned with business needs—a recent study notes that 44 percent of respondents can’t claim their project is a success.

That was the most surprising result of the survey CA commissioned, the company told Enterprise Systems. The Strategic Counsel, an independent research firm, surveyed 800 organizations worldwide (30 percent from North America, 37 percent from Europe, and 31 percent from the Asia-Pacific region) and found a key reason for this pessimistic outlook: respondents could not quantify the technology’s ROI. In fact, while "success" was not defined by the survey, but the report says there is a close correlation between success and recognition of cost savings or return on investment.

The survey makes clear that "virtualization" isn’t just a single technology in the minds of those it questioned. The study reported that 71 percent of respondents have deployed (or plan to deploy) multiple server virtualization technologies. There’s more to virtualization than just traditional technologies in the eye of respondents; the report noted that 60 percent include clustering, hardware virtualization (also called server virtualization), and OS partitioning in their definition of "virtualized environments."

CA told ESJ that’s in line with feedback from its customers, who tend to have a wider view of the technology than just the "textbook definitions" and want unified management beyond "traditional" virtualization technologies. Indeed, the report notes,

A key consideration identified by the survey for driving increased satisfaction is the need to reduce the costs associated with the issues and constraints of managing multiple, heterogeneous server virtualization environments by unifying server virtualization management across platforms, solutions, and technologies. Unifying server virtualization management will create significant scope for improving performance measurement, generating IT operating efficiencies, and for reducing IT capital expenditures by improving server utilization across heterogeneous virtualization environments.

The report takes pains to explain that estimating the extent of virtualization varies depending on what technologies you include. Overall, "80 percent of organizations with 500 or more employees have deployed or have definite plans to deploy a server virtualization solution or technology," but when non-traditional technologies are excluded, the figure is closer to 39 percent.

The reason for the heterogeneity: the need for "best fit" solutions. Respondents noted that their environments employ several platforms which drives their need for multiple solutions. As a consequence, however, respondents complain of server sprawl (39 percent of respondents), increased difficulty with reporting, visibility and metrics that provide a single, consistent view of server efficiency (32 percent), significantly increased configuration workloads (25 percent), and the need to maintain more than one set of skills (24 percent).

A Wise Investment?

The report found that virtualization project deployment times vary: 3 percent were deployed in less than a month from the start of the project, and 42 percent finished within one to six months, figures that are "within reason for a relatively new technology" but are "significantly longer than those indicated in other surveys."

For those organizations that say their virtualization project was a success, most say they are able to measure performance. "Other key success factors cited in the study include diligent inventorying of server assets and load distribution, and thorough investigation of available technology solutions," CA noted in a statement.

Quick ROI was another driving force; 4 percent say they achieved a positive ROI within a month of deployment, while 55 percent said it came within a year; 13 percent said it took more than a year. The size of the return isn’t as impressive as IT might expect for a technology with so much buzz. When it comes to measuring the return, 20 percent of respondents said it was less than 10 percent, which, the report concludes, could put virtualization projects "on shaky ground." (ROI between 10 and 25 percent was realized by 61 percent of those surveyed; 19 percent said their ROI exceeded 25 percent.)

Those reporting their server virtualization deployment a success were also likely to have realized an ROI of greater than 10 percent and documented cost savings of more than 5 percent. Even so, a positive ROI "does not guarantee a project will be regarded by an organization as successful."

Respondents made clear that their expectations are high when it comes to using virtualization to solve their top three business drivers for IT: 63 percent expect it to will help business performance, 66 percent say it will reduce IT costs or improve IT efficiency, and 64 percent anticipate an improvement in IT service levels.

That’s all the more reason to concentrate on metrics. The disappointing satisfaction ratings are a call for better IT measurements:

… improved server and system utilization rates, improved server reliability and uptime, and improved business continuity and disaster recovery all need metrics developed so that they can be related to business case approval and successful deployment evaluation. For example, metrics for measuring how improved server and system utilization rates, improved server reliability and uptime, and improved business continuity and disaster application have affected application performance and uptime since server virtualization deployment.

Furthermore, the survey shows that being able to measure current server performance and network infrastructure performance and any improvements resulting from implementation of a server virtualization solution or technology, is a key best-practice contributor to server virtualization deployment satisfaction. The call to action for vendors is providing organizations with this measurement capability in a multiple, heterogeneous server virtualization environments context.

Finally, the report notes several best practices that, when followed, heighten a company’s view of a successful project:

  • researching and investigating all available server virtualization technologies and solutions
  • conducting an inventory, identify loads, and consolidate physical servers, and retiring servers unable to handle increased workloads under virtualization
  • preparation of a detailed implementation plan (including capital and operating expenditures, timetables, and org charts)

What hampers success? Of those reporting an unsuccessful project, some 73 percent had conducted a "peer check and review."

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