The Key to Virtualization and Cloud Success

From all the hype it seems cloud computing is driving everything having to do with IT and business success. But actually it is virtualization that both provides the foundation for cloud computing and drives it forward.

BottomlineIT has taken up virtualization before here. But virtualization is neither simple nor straightforward. Gartner late last year put out its virtualization hype cycle. Not sure much has substantively changed since then. As recently as this past spring, IT media were reporting Gartner saying: Virtualization is the #1 trend in IT, and will be through 2012.

A recent survey by CA Technologies on the state of IT automation, however, might dampen some of the virtualization enthusiasm.   The survey suggests that virtualization is not delivering the benefits managers were led to expect. The survey of 460 decision-makers from midsize and large enterprises found more than 60% are disappointed in virtualization’s ability to deliver savings. But the survey also hinted at the solution.

A large majority cited reducing costs (85%) and increasing server utilization (84%) as the primary reasons to deploy virtualization. Of the respondents, 63% noted they have not experienced as much savings as expected, and 5% said the complexities of virtualization had actually introduced new costs.

Increased complexity, indeed, may be virtualization’s dirty little secret. Virtualization adds, at the least, another layer to the multi-layer IT infrastructure that exists in many organizations today. At a minimum, virtualization requires new skills on the part of IT and new tools, both of which require new investments. Organizations not prepared to invest in new tools and new training will find it difficult to capture the virtualization benefits they expected.

The CA survey quotes one respondent: “Virtualization is a bean counter’s dream, but it can be an operational nightmare.” The respondent, a senior IT manager, continued: “Change management is a huge overhead, as any changes need to be accepted by all applications and users sharing the same virtualization kit. While many organizations are seeing benefits from virtualization, such as reduced hardware spending and improved server utilization, these benefits often get overshadowed by the lack of productivity improvements in data center staffing and operations.”

The key to solving these problems is management automation. The survey shows a direct correlation between IT service automation in a virtualized environment and cost-savings. For example, 44% of survey respondents who said most of their server provisioning processes are automated report they have significantly reduced costs through virtualization. Conversely, 48% of those who said the complexities of virtualization have introduced new costs also said—don’t be shocked—most of their server provisioning processes still are manual.

The complexity of IT infrastructures today combined with the volumes of disparate workloads and data running through them are so great that humans cannot possibly keep up. They need automated tools to find and correct problems before they impact the workloads. For organizations hoping to capitalize on self-service provisioning—where the big virtualization and cloud payoff lies—automation is a given from the start.

To realize the full benefits from virtualization and cloud computing, CA points out, IT organizations need to automate and integrate the physical and virtual server configuration, provisioning, monitoring, security, software patching, and more across the typical heterogeneous IT infrastructure. This will involve a new investment in automation tools, which don’t come cheaply.

CA offers tools to do this here.  IBM offers Tivoli Service Manager for cloud automation here.  HP also provides cloud service management automation here. So do others. But without automation from some vendor or another your virtualization efforts  mostly will be wasted.

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