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The adoption of virtualisation

Virtualisation is a key component in a system integrator’s arsenal for energy- and cost-savings. With the media focus shifted away thanks to cloud computing, how has the technology’s integration been progressing?

When was the last time the choice of PCs dominated the office of the CIO? Chances are, not since the days of IBM machines versus compatibles.

That’s arguably down to the progression of the new and innovative to the passé that comes with widespread adoption. And the adoption of virtualisation in the enterprise today is such that it’s broadly considered standard practice, rather than anything particularly special. Be that as it may, the virtualisation story is far from over, as opportunity continues to present itself.

That much is confirmed by the major analyst groups. IDC, for example, in its Worldwide Storage and Virtualized x86 Environments 2012 – 2016 Forecast, anticipates that over $12 billion will be spent on virtualisation in 2013. For the software, techniques and tools that enable virtualisation to command such a substantial spend means the market is accepting the promised benefits. In the case of virtualisation, that means space reduction, improved asset utilisation and reduced power consumption.

Meanwhile, a Forrester Research paper commissioned by networking giant Cisco Systems notes: “The benefits of server virtualisation are widely accepted and the majority of organisations have deployed virtualisation technologies. Organisations are virtualising mission-critical workloads but must now consider virtualisation’s security and compliance implications.”

Underpinning the hype

Along with the widespread adoption of virtualisation, cloud computing is increasingly emerging as the technology provisioning approach of choice. Cloud computing, of course, to a very large degree rests on virtualisation as an enabler. The ability to create and provision low-cost, flexible services depends on more complete use of underlying resources. Perhaps the best demonstrator of this assumption is the ability for a company like Google to provide ‘free’ services to millions of customers – its business model would surely come under pressure unless its server and storage hardware weren’t efficiently used.

Virtualisation is certainly key in driving up those utilisation rates (however, it must be noted that neither Google nor other large cloud service providers like Amazon and Facebook actually publish their datacentre utilisation rates. Blogger Huan Liu estimates that Amazon’s is between seven and 25 percent).

The South African situation

Dimension Data chief innovation officer Bradley Bunch says virtualisation is a standard tool within a lot of South African IT departments. “Generally, yes, but not all workloads lend themselves to it. Most have done the easy stuff first and will now look at some of the more difficult applications; as they do so, it’s likely there will be some exploring of the potential for further reducing cost by better managing the datacentre and moving already virtualised workloads to hosted, managed hosted, or cloud environments.”

That view is confirmed by Chris Norton, country manager of VMware South Africa. He says that with more than 50 percent of local businesses on virtualised infrastructure, it [virtualisation] has passed an inflection point.

“It’s not a fad, it’s a reality. Of course, with it now so pervasive, the sales markets slow down and the focus moves to other components [of infrastructure] that are more relevant and CIOs look to solve bigger problems.”

Norton says virtualisation is a de facto standard in the datacentre; even small organisations make use of hypervisors in various ways. “That’s thanks to the capabilities that virtualisation drives, which is especially relevant in the datacentre. Cost saving, consolidation and the ability to provide a consistent platform capable of meeting computing needs, off of a heterogeneous server base; these are the advantages promised by virtualisation and they’re delivered, too.”

Getting maximum benefit

Meanwhile, Warren Olivier, territory manager at Veeam Software, says resellers specialising in virtualisation should start with a strong message to end users: “In order to fully realise ALL the benefits of virtualisation, you have to embrace the technology, not just tolerate it.”

One of the areas where Olivier believes money is yet to be made is in the specialty of backups and disaster recovery. “Despite the potential for faster, more efficient data protection that virtualisation offers and the advances modern data protection tools can provide, recovery times have increased since 2011,” Olivier claims.

Why? “It comes down to two influences. First, virtual infrastructure is constantly growing. As well as forming the majority of IT infrastructure now, it will continue to grow in the future. Second, organisations are not updating their data protection tools and strategies to match.”

The problem, he says, is that a ‘physical world’ mindset persists, which is unnecessary and ill-suited to the virtual infrastructure. “Until [a shift in mindset is made] you’ll never unlock virtualisation’s full potential.”

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