From ‘bleeding edge’ to best practices

A provincial government in Eastern Canada has recently completed a virtualization project that has seen its physical infrastructure consolidate from hundreds of servers down to four.

One of Canada’s largest food producers is currently undergoing virtualization that has resulted in cost-avoidance of millions of dollars – and there is still the possibility the company may yet consolidate an additional 50 per cent of its infrastructure.

A 13-campus Ontario college has reduced its number of servers by almost half, from 50 to 27.

A multi-branch financial institution has undertaken a virtualization project that, in three years, is estimated to generate cost-savings of close to $3 million.

These are now what could be called classic examples of virtualization, and they’re relatively common. As noted last month in this column, the latest figures from IDC Corp. show that server virtualization is used by more than 60 per cent of Canadian companies with more than 100 employees.

IDC research on cloud computing, meanwhile, indicates that “worldwide IT spending on cloud services will grow almost threefold, reaching $44.2 billion by 2013.” According to Steve Harris, a principal consultant with xwave‘s advanced technology consulting business, “Cloud is here, and about 50 percent of enterprise customers are thinking about implementing it in some shape or form.”

With this emergence comes the development and growing acceptance of best practices that are helping adopters not only feel more comfortable in migrating to cloud, but also make the most of it. Among those practices:

* Avoid virtual server sprawl, (a growing challenge in the virtual world), by identifying a champion – i.e. a decision maker/administrator – for each user-community in your organization.

* Ensure capacity is properly managed, in part by avoiding over-subscription – in other words, assigning too much processing power to servers. As an example, if you had 1,000 servers, each equipped 10GB, and all of them ramped up simultaneously, chances are you’d end up with an outage.

* Don’t discount the importance of backup. In a virtual environment, backup is relatively quick and easy, which can create a false sense of security. Be vigilant and make sure your storage is properly maintained.

* To maximize the benefits and usability of virtualization, implement it at the server, storage and local area network (LAN) levels.

On the subject of benefits, while greener computing remains a key factor in the virtualization/cloud equation, the number-one driver is improved overall manageability. Steve Harris explains it this way: “If you were operating a tractor, you’re now behind the wheel of a Formula One car.”

Second on the list is cost-savings – and not necessarily in capital expenditures, where organizations often expect to see cuts, but in operations where, over the long run, dramatically improved management means measurably better efficiency and productivity. As an example, prior to virtualizing, the aforementioned financial institution experienced an extended storage outage due to longer-than-anticipated system maintenance. Today the organization can simply move data from the affected area – in real time, during regular business hours, thereby maximizing uptime and minimizing the need for off-hour shifts, two benefits that have a significantly positive impact on staff availability and project timelines.

These kinds of advantages make an increasingly compelling case for virtualization and cloud, and as the growth figures from IDC suggest, there is more cloud to come. More adoption. More evolution – for example, the increasing proliferation of public cloud services such as the Microsoft Windows Azure offering.

Providers themselves will evolve too, with consultants possibly taking on more of a brokering role in helping clients secure and manage the appropriate cloud services.

All of which is part of the continual maturation of virtual computing and, along with it, an increasing comfort in the knowledge that these technologies deliver real value, and are here to stay.

Anthony Wright is vice-president of advanced technology solutions at xwave, a division of Bell Aliant. Ranked among Canada’s top 10 green solution providers by CDN in 2008 and 2009, the company offers a complete portfolio of virtualization and consolidation services.. For more information:

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