It’s time for the channel to leverage virtualization

Clients are ready to have a discussion about how virtualization can improve their IT environments, and one solution provider says a successful virtualization implementation can open the door to further IT engagements for the channel.

At a Microsoft Canada-sponsored media roundtable at the recent IDC Canada Virtualization Forum in Toronto, stakeholders discussed the state of virtualization technology and the benefits it can bring to IT environments.

Andy Papadopoulos, president of Toronto-based solution provider and Microsoft partner LegendCorp, says virtualization has become an increasingly compelling channel play. High-end machines are generally all that can be bought today, he says, and consequently clients are utilizing just 10 per cent of their computing resources. They want to maximize their assets, and Papadopoulos says virtualization can help.

“Virtualization is in its infancy in a lot of environments, but also top of mind in a lot of conversations with our clients,” said Papadopoulos. “Virtualization is trying to leverage the investments you’ve made. Clients often want to do virtualization but they don’t know where to start.”

This is where Microsoft’s virtualization tools really help the channel, he says. The tools in Microsoft System Center help him go into a client environment, examine which resources are being used, which are candidates for virtualization, and develop a plan for the client to show how they can get there. Papadopoulos adds he can also create a test environment using the Microsoft tools to show the client how the virtualized environment will work, and ensure 100 per cent predictability when moving into production.

“At the end of the day all I or any partner is doing is selling a process, and making people comfortable,” said Papadopoulos. “A lot of these tools are new and a lot of our clients don’t know they exist yet, so it’s our job to make them aware.”

He adds virtualization brings process to an IT environment, because you’re forced to think about how you use your environment and utilize your resources. In a virtualized environment a new server instance can be rolled-out in 10 minutes, and Papadopoulos says a standardized server image will help drive company standards that are a challenge to maintain today.

“At the end of the day, for going through this process we end up with a better environment,” said Papadopoulos.

Once an IT environment has been successfully virtualized, he adds, the door is opened for the partner to have a discussion with their client around things like clustering, high availability and redundancy that are now more affordable and practicable for the client to consider.

Virtualization can also be particularly compelling for SMBs. Take the example of a small client, says Papadopoulos, that can’t afford three servers and doesn’t want the complexity that brings, and yet is told they need three servers to run their mail server, domain server and a line of business application. With virtualization, they can do all that on one box.

“There’s a fear factor (with virtualization), but they don’t want to see a lot of servers sitting in the data centre and they worry they’ll have to hire more people to manage that,” said Papadopoulos. “Virtualization extends the life of what’s there, and it reduces the complexity.”

John Oxley, director of community evangelism for Microsoft Canada, says the Redmond, Wash.-based software company has been actively developing its set of virtualization tools. Its System Center line of products includes System Center Virtual Manager 2007, and the February 2008 release of Windows Server 2008 will include a beta of Windows Server virtualization technology; code-named Viridian.

The vendor’s approach, says Oxley, is to leverage the platform investment to manage all IT resources, virtualized or not, in the same way. Reducing complexity is critical, he says, and that starts with management.

“You’ve got to look at management at the core, and the way you look at management has to change,” said Oxley. “Unlike our competitors we’re actually looking to redefine virtualization, and look at it from an end to end perspective, from data centre to desktop. Culture is the number one enabler and disabler of virtualization.”

Many clients are already seeing the benefits of virtualization, such as the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres (OACCAC). A health-care agency of the provincial government, the OACCAC provides nursing support and long-term care and facilitates home visits via 14 community care access centres across the province.

Ken Sutcliffe, the OACCAC’s director of IT services, says they’re facing constant budget pressures to keep internal costs down while, at the same time, improving functionality. In the past when they needed more resources they’d buy another server, but that solution was becoming increasingly impracticable.

“As we’ve grown it’s just not cutting it for us anymore, so we’ve been looking for some solutions to turn serves into a service and not hardware,” said Sutcliffe.

The organization decided to virtualize its server environment, and Sutcliffe says as a result they’ve been able to save money while providing better uptime and greater resiliency to their end users.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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