Five Virtualization Best Practices That Can Transform Enterprise IT

To help you meet the challenges of virtualization, we offer five best practices that will transform enterprise IT both operationally and strategically.

by Ravi Gururaj and Srihari Palangala

Over the years, enterprise IT has continuously taken strides to keep pace with business demands -- from both a revenue-generation and cost-containment perspective. To do this, IT has always maintained a keen eye on, and appropriately leveraged, disruptive technologies that have had the potential to deliver significant new business value. Today, despite the economic slowdown, virtualization continues to generate strong interest and gather momentum as a truly disruptive technology. It is proving to be the next frontier for IT in its goal to keep up with business expectations and challenges.

To understand this evolution, we must look at the IT expectations of both the end users and managers.

For end users, the key requirement is to be able to quickly fulfil their IT requirements (i.e., storage, networking, virtual machines) without waiting for internal IT administrators to process and attend to their requests. End users expect a high degree of automation to be able to access IT resources on demand.

On the other hand, the expectations from the IT managers are varied and depend on the role that the administrator plays in the organization. For example, application administrators are expected to seamlessly roll out new applications and patches with minimal (even near zero) downtime. These administrators are mandated to eliminate complexity and uncertainty associated with these application roll outs and upgrades. Infrastructure administrators are expected to drive infrastructure consolidation, reduce operational expenditures, improve utilization levels, and drive costs down (including in negotiations with vendors).

Data center directors are expected to operate within tight budgets while being fully aware that future capital expenditure is likely to be constrained. They are also expected to keep IT in compliance with government and industry regulations and guidelines. Finally, they are required to allocate IT infrastructure costs to the business units.

CIOs are expected to offer IT as a competitive advantage to business stakeholders (i.e., the internal stakeholders, customers, and partners).

The Challenges

IT managers attempting to meet these expectations are tremendously challenged -- to say the least -- by numerous high hurdles. Application administrators must replicate production environments, deploy the software (or patches), test the system thoroughly, and move the application into production. The process is fraught with uncertainty and they look to technological support and automation tools to help them deliver error-free and reliable application rollouts and patches.

Infrastructure administrators have hurdles to surmount as well. Their primary challenge is consolidating the management view of the virtualized data center (multiple sites/locations onto a single pane of management glass) and in ensuring optimized utilization of IT resources. There is no seamless integration between multiple sites, making it difficult for the administrator to operate a truly agile data center. Finally, the lack of standards across platforms forces infrastructure administrators to select specific vendors, risking vendor lock-in.

Data center directors face challenges when trying to decipher the licensing costs and the true total cost of ownership (TCO) for running their applications in the on-premise data center. The vendor packages and bundles are often difficult to comprehend accurately on first glance and require thorough due diligence to understand the real TCO. In addition, software license management and compliance are challenges, especially in a virtualized environment. Finally, associating the right chargebacks to business units based on infrastructure use is often difficult.

Businesses are rapidly adapting to the changing economic climate. CIOs must keep IT nimble, contain costs, and ensure IT continues to innovate to deliver competitive edge and maintain business agility.

In view of these expectations and challenges, the following are five virtualization best practices that will transform enterprise IT both from an operational and strategic standpoint.

Best Practice #1 (For End Users): Leverage virtualization to eliminate the IT bottleneck

We recommend that organizations enable automation-driven, self-service IT for end users (constrained by access policy and resource quotas for each class of end user). End users should be able to gain access (typically via a Web portal) on demand to IT resources (storage, networking, and virtual machines). The system should automatically ensure that no single user can monopolize or misuse resources in the extreme case.

Best Practice #2 (For Application Administrators): Use a virtualized sandbox to improve IT applications and service reliability

We recommend that application administrators leverage virtualization to enable a service (i.e., a group of virtual machines networked together) staging workflow. In this workflow, the service is progressively readied and validated at each stage before it is “promoted” into production. For example, the stages could include patch deployment, integration with IT services, user acceptance testing, and final rollout of the service to production. Services that are virtualized could easily be managed through these stages. This progressive move towards production deployment mitigates the risk and uncertainty associated with introduction of patches and new releases into a production workload scenario.

Best Practice #3 (For Infrastructure Administrators): Improve resource utilization and retain a bird’s eye view of your virtual infrastructure

Infrastructure administrators should rely on and use a single pane of management glass that can manage across multi-site/location, multi-hypervisor virtual farm infrastructure deployments. This unified view will provide the infrastructure administrator with a coherent view of resource utilization across all sites. A multi-hypervisor framework ensures the administrator has eliminated the risk of vendor lock-in to a large extent.

Best Practice #4 (For Data Center Directors): Keep the TCO in view always and be diligent on virtual infrastructure costs

Data center directors must fully understand the TCO of their virtualized infrastructures. It would benefit the IT manager to understand and learn about bundles, features, dependencies and SKUs first hand from the vendor account manager. In this context, some enterprise-ready virtualization products are being offered for free and are worth a consideration. There are solutions available in the market that might be worthwhile considerations for maintaining software license compliance and appropriate business unit chargebacks.

Best Practice #5 (For CIOs): Invest in virtualization to keep IT agile

We recommend that CIOs invest in virtualization infrastructure that will allow organizations to seamlessly leverage the growing public cloud infrastructures (i.e., “burst” or “grow” into the cloud) should the need arise. We further recommend that this “burst to the external cloud” should only happen when demand rises above the ‘steady state’ (note that steady-state requirements are met by in-house infrastructure).

Summary

Business alignment is a fundamental driver for CIOs and IT departments worldwide. Virtualization is a disruptive new technology that can alter how IT impacts and aligns with business. The technology accompanied with powerful management applications has the potential to transform the strategic and operational working of non-production and production data centers. As outlined in this article, virtualization, when applied with a set of governing best practices, has the potential to impact across all levels in the IT organizational hierarchy and can transform enterprise IT.

Ravi Gururaj is the founder and CTO of VMLogix and has over 19 years of technology product development, management, and marketing experience. He has held senior management roles at Trilogy, UberWorks, and Dialogic Corporation. He can be reached at ravi@vmlogix.com.

Srihari Palangala is the director of product marketing at VMLogix and has spent more than eight years in software product management, marketing and business development. He can be reached at srihari@vmlogix.com.