The real value of virtualisation

Discover how to fully realise the benefits and cost savings of virtualisation, including the importance of maximising energy efficiency and meeting IT project deadlines.

Many organisations are keen on virtualising their IT estate because they see reduced system and hardware maintenance costs. Many haven't fully realised the benefits of virtualisation or consolidation, however, because outgoing systems still haven't been decommissioned. In addition, many applications don't lend themselves to being virtualised. Managing and monitoring the virtual world is complex and costly; you can end up with out-of-control license costs and virtual server sprawl, even though you thought you had 'consolidated' systems.

Virtualisation within IT is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it has been a way to reduce IT costs in the industry in one form or another for nearly 20 years. The main difference now is the wide range of virtualisation technologies available and how these can be implemented to achieve differing business objectives.

Because virtualisation can introduce flexibility to an IT estate and bring with it a wide range of benefits, IT organisations often lose focus on the benefits they are looking for and concentrate on delivering to those needs. No single item in an IT budget is going to have the procurement impact of the mainframe of yesteryear, and as such, far more work needs to be done to quantify the benefits of virtualisation.

The golden rule is to set an aggressive deadline to achieve projected savings within the expected timescales.

Alistair Williams, head of data management, Centiq,

In the current market, cost containment has possibly the highest focus in IT departments. But is that the right question? Are you looking for the ability to do more for less or the same? Or the ability to do the same for less? Critically, however, the costs that you may expect to save are often poorly defined and therefore the drive for completion can be misfocused and the selection of technology flawed.

If the highest IT cost in planning is a network upgrade, introducing server virtualisation is only going to tie up resources, use up your budget and not fix the problem.

Energy efficiency
Being energy efficient may be the highest driver, especially if your organisation has signed up for carbon credits or the EU code of conduct for data centres. Virtualisation here will have a positive impact, but the savings can only be maximised when old equipment is turned off, as recommended by section 4.3 of the 2010 EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres. The task of planning, testing and checking servers for migration can be intensive, however, and it may also be a new skill that needs to be brought in or trained up. In an organisation with 300 servers, arranging the movement of three per week on top of existing responsibilities can be challenging.

So based on this optimistic 1% per week ratio, which is not uncommon, is the board really expecting to only see full returns in 2 years?

All too often, a typical consolidation project can see all the hardware delivered. Whilst capable of supporting the applications, the relationships and interoperability are not mapped out, and as such, no servers are turned off. The golden rule is to set an aggressive deadline to achieve projected savings within the expected timescales. Migrating to virtualisation on an "as and when" will rarely provide the expected returns and could end up costing more than doing nothing.

With 55% of the energy costs in a data centre generated by the air conditioning and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), it is crucial that after implementing virtualisation this aspect is not ignored. If these elements are not turned down, not only will the staff have to invest in warmer clothes, a significant portion of the expected savings that the business planned for will not be realised.

Turn it off!
When it's gone, make sure it's gone. Take it off maintenance, turn it off, don't let it become another test system or "archive," and dispose of it. Many organisations have systems that have been re-provisioned and some may be completely outside the knowledge and control of central IT; these can be significant risks to the business either in support or through license breaches.

Very few systems are ever turned off, even long after they have stopped taking in any new data. The EU code of Conduct for Data Centre recommends virtualising those applications, but I would challenge the common misconception that "virtualise" in this context means server virtualisation alone. If historic data is archived to an environment where it can still be accessed without turning on another virtual machine (VM), we have in essence virtualised the data without the power and management overheads associated with migrating limited value data to new hardware. This approach of application retirement has a double benefit. Not only can you start reaping the savings expected by the board quicker, but it costs less to get there.

Alistair Williams is head of data management at the U.K. IT consultancy Centiq and a contributor to

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