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TECH WATCH: Data Center Virtualization

Tools For The Job
Virtualization is accelerating the Data Center consolidation movement.  

Virtualization makes Data Center consolidation easier because it can be put on top of legacy systems. By now, Government Computer News readers have read the statistics that most servers use only 6-8% of capacity in x86 environments. And there is a lot of opportunity to reuse hardware versus having to buy new technology to improve productivity.


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Data Center Virtualization.pdf [PDF]
“A lot of people are trying to evaluate what they can do with their existing investment, without having to buy all new hardware to run Virtualization on top of,” said David Smith from Citrix.


As evaluations go on, so have implementations at the Pentagon where BRAC was the catalyst for Data Center consolidation; at the Marines where they went from 300 to 30 Data Centers; and at the Office of the Secretary of Defense which relies on a virtualized environment noted VMware’s Aileen Black.


As everything in government, change means overcoming cultural objections. “It takes people a little while to get used to it,” said Black.


Most of customers go through an evolution according to Black. “They have tendency to want to do a proof of concept; then they deploy it a little in production; and then – boom! – they adopt it wholeheartedly once they realize what the ROI is,” Black said.


Because “it seems too good to be true”, people want to test it first said Black.


Virtual Considerations


“The hardware vendors are really getting into this space as well,” said Smith. “What used to be ‘the province of software’, now your Intel’s and AMD’s are building Virtualization into the chip set natively.”


Smith explained that the benefit of those chips and how they are leveraged in a virtualized environment. “If an OS, for example Windows is running on top of a virtualized platform and it is aware it is being virtualized through the chip set it can operate more efficiently.”


As with physical machines, if you just virtualize and don’t implement a strategy for managing your virtual machines, you are going to have proliferation of virtual machines and a management headache.


That means planning for the lifecycle of your virtual machine – early on – just as you would a physical machine, tracking everything from development, through its useful life and when they should be retired.


People focus first on ROI because so high and hot on server consolidation said Black. “They need to look how to leverage the same technology without additional cost.”

Virtualization sets up the platform for all the other things that make a server consolidated environment work well and allows you to leverage existing IT investments.


When choosing a solution, government IT managers should investigate whether that solution is robust, proven and has been used in a production environment. And it never hurts to learn from colleagues who have experience in implementing Virtualization in the Data Center. Seek them out and find out what they have to say.


Black also recommends you look for Virtualization products that have a broad reach and are agile in the sense working with a lot of different companies and products. “After all, the #1 issue in Data Center consolidation is making all the little pieces work.


Do a true architecture plan counsels Black. “Don’t just jump into Virtualization without thinking about how to leverage the most of what you already have,” said Black. “One mistake is not really leveraging all the efficiencies that Virtualization can bring such as enhance security, disaster recovery and patch management.”


“It’s the engine of the car,” said Citrix’s Smith talking about Virtualization software and chip solutions. “There is still a lot of features and management and functionality you need to build around the engine to build a full car.”


One of those management features allows you to provision servers in a matter of minutes rather than hours. Virtualization allows you to better automate your business processes so you can provision a server and not have to have someone physically put a disk in a server and rebuild it and add a new server to increase my capacity.


All that can be automated and can be controlled by one person sitting at a computer. Now that’s a virtual environment government can live with.