The separation of the IT infrastructure and production from their consumption through the use of virtualisation technology is saving money while improving service delivery at five user firms who spoke at VMworld 2010 in Copenhagen.
The five, General Electric, Siemens IT Services, Sabre Holdings, Experian and Laboratory Corporation of America, were all using VMware's vCloud Director (vCD) product on top of other systems such as vSphere, which managed the pooling of physical devices such as servers and storage media and the allocation of virtual machines and applications.
vCD provides an extra level of abstraction from the virtualised environment. This allows system administrators to set up application catalogues, policy and permission directories that effectively allow users to self-provision their own IT needs securely.
As vCD is a relatively new product, most of the use cases described were pilot project that were on the verge of going into production. But the results were already apparent.
James Jones of LabCorp said the pathology laboratory had cut the time to provision a virtual server from seven days to five minutes, and where it had teams to set up virtual environments, now users could provision their own systems.
He noted that LabCorp was running 700n virtual machines on 50 hosts, mostly IBM System 39s and 3850s.
GE's Clint Greenwood said the electrical engineering and finance company believed that the future lay in hybrid clouds, and its experience with vCD was proving this view correct. It was using Cisco's Unified Communication System (UCS) tightly bound to vCD, which gave the system "a lot of flexibility and power".
The future of IT in GE lay in "external hosting for internal GE businesses", he said. Presently this applied to disaster recovery, burst capacity, and short-term applications.
Siemens's Jordan Janeczko said his firm had decided to get into virtualisation both for its own needs, and because it is a service provider, to understand what the technology could offer its clients, and what extra value Siemens could add.
"Users are concerned about the security and location of their data, who has access to it, compliance monitoring and reporting, system availability and performance, and business continuity," he said.
Siemens built a virtualised test centre based on an order and billing application. It is rolling this out to Siemens datacentres around the world using tools from SpringSource, which VMware bought last year.
Sabre Holdings, formerly American Airlines' seat reservation system, runs several travel applications developed in centres around the world. Sabre's Glenn Harber said it had a ratio of 2.5 times more virtual machines than physical machines.
"We have VM sprawl, so we now letting users self-provision within tight parameters," he said. "It is like with teenagers - every so often they have to tidy their rooms."
This policy has allowed Sabre to reclaim many virtual machines. Harber also said it was wise to set time limits on user's virtual machines, or they would leave them allocated but perhaps seldom use them. "If the data is critical they should put it on a production system," he said.
He said it was now easier to develop sales and marketing systems and to make them available quickly. "It is easy to clone a known good environment because the only thing that changes is the IP address.
Experian's Alan Russell said government legislation required its credit scoring system to adapted for local conditions, resulting in a heavy systems development workload. Further security was its "first thought" because of the nature of its data.
A survey of its CIOs in development centres worldwide found they wanted on demand self-service access to resources for their teams, flexibility, and low cost. "But above all they wanted consistency," he said.
"We know some of them are using Amazon's EC2, completely against company policy," he said.
In setting up the pilot Russell got users involved early. It made all the difference, he said. "They came up with a lot of things we hadn't," he said. It also almost built in user acceptance.