Virtualization helps Canadian firms slash hardware, maintenance costs

Technology vendors tout virtualization as a server sprawl slayer.

However, companies adopting the technology shouldn’t just focus on this short term gain, industry experts say.

Rather, they should also look at longer term benefits such as improved business process management capabilities and user satisfaction.

Decommissioning costly physical servers and replacing them with virtual machines is just one facet of virtualization, according to Brad Fedosoff, senior director of enterprise architecture and technology infrastructure at CIBC in Toronto.

“If companies fail to deploy virtualization management tools they may end up replacing physical server sprawl with virtual server sprawl, Fedosoff said.

Fedosoff was one of the attendees at a recent presentation on how virtualization tools can help companies improve business processes.

The event was hosted by the Bell Enterprise Group of Bell Canada at the Toronto Board of Trade office on Wednesday.

Virtualization technologies basically separate software from the underlying hardware, allowing the application to be deployed in more flexible ways.

The decades old technology also enables multiple operating systems to run on one server and allow application workloads to be shifted between computers more easily to enhance hardware use.

This practice of deploying so-called virtual servers, facilitate the reduction of physical servers in the enterprise.

Virtualization tools also present multiple storage devices as one, hiding their physical complexity from storage administrators.

This offers companies greater control over storage provisioning.

More than 37 per cent of IT shops use virtualization and nearly 50 per cent of new servers are virtualized, according to a survey by research firm IDC Inc. in Framingham, Mass.

Workers in companies that use virtualization benefit from more seamless and faster delivery of applications and better access to tech services, according to Peter Carswell, national practice manager for virtualization at the Bell Enterprise Group.

Carswell discussed the virtues of virtualization and how organizations can optimize returns from investments on this technology.

He related specific ways that virtualization offers IT teams greater control over server and storage provisioning.

For instance, such teams can more effectively test new applications or “quarantine” infected servers since virtual machines can be easily monitored and isolated, the Bell executive said.

“These are areas where the bigger benefits are – in the long term.”

“Unfortunately,” Carswell said,” most vendors tend to highlight the upfront savings instead.”

One technology analyst explained that physical machine cutbacks due to virtualization make for a compelling argument because these are readily quantifiable savings.

Server consolidation is a very tangible idea that business units can wrap their heads around,” according to John Sloan, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

He said a recent Info-Tech study on the topic indicates that some companies can save as much as 45 to 75 per cent of their hardware budget allocated for physical servers if the deployed virtual servers.

Consolidation also cuts hardware maintenance by as much as 25 to 50 per cent.

Most organizations begin to see savings when they are able to consolidate three servers into a single VM. “Even small and medium-sized businesses begin achieving positive ROI by the time they consolidate 15 servers or more,” Sloan said.

But long term benefits such as improved disaster recovery management – although not immediately quantifiable – should not be discounted the analyst said. “For some companies the added flexibility, and application testing/failover capabilities of virtual servers are [sufficiently] compelling reasons to switch over to VMs.”

Companies that intend to virtualize their environment need to carefully plan for the deployment, according to Mihaita Bighu, senior technology consultant for enterprise architecture at CIBC.

He emphasized that organization have to determine at the onset which assets will be virtualized and what type of virtualization management tools will be used for the system.

“Management tools, policies and process have to be built-in at the initial stage rather than cobbled together or retrofitted into the system as the need arise,” Bighu said.

Otherwise, organizations might make the mistake of piling on more virtual machines to handle increasing demand rather than make better use of existing VMs.

“As easy as it is to lose physical servers in a sprawl, I imagine locating a virtual machine would be more difficult,” said CIBC’s Fedosoff.

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