IT pros moving slowly to full virtual infrastructures

Vendors want customers to virtualise all of their data centres but IT shops are taking their time to make sure management and other tools are in place.

LONDON--Vendors want customers to start their journey towards a 100% virtual infrastructure, but IT professionals have their own ideas about how and when they plan to expand to full virtualisation.

At both IP Expo and Storage Expo this year, vendors urged companies -- most of which are well down the road with server virtualisation but lag in virtualising other IT resources-- to virtualise 100% of their infrastructure. But IT managers said the key to virtualisation project success is planning and putting the right management tools in place. And that takes time.

Concerns over security, compliance and vendor lock-in have sounded alarm bells with the IT community so environments, on average, remain at only 20 to 30% of their servers virtualized. To get over this speed bump, many are looking towards managing both a virtual and a physical environment instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.

Magnus Leask, IT director at sports marketing agency Fast Track, said it is not a case of fearing a full virtualisation environment, but of learning the skills needed to manage it as the environment is rolled out.

Fast Track currently manages an on-site physical data centre and a secondary colocated data centre as part of its disaster recovery strategy. Leask said Fast Track will eventually go 100% virtual by migrating its primary data centre, but is taking its time.

"In five years' time we will be running a fully virtualised environment, but VMware and all the management tools are a learning curve for us, so we are rolling it out slowly and learning as we go," he said.

Roger Bearpark, assistant head of ICT at the London Borough of Hillingdon, said the council underwent its first virtualisation project three years ago and has been working towards a 100% virtualised environment since.

"We do not have a fear of a fully virtualised environment. We are about 90% virtualised now and will be 100% soon, due to the cost savings we previously made. Now when we implement anything I always ask if it works with VMware -- if it doesn't then we don't want it," he said.

The council virtualised 150 servers and now runs four physical servers, saving an estimated £20,000 by reducing power consumption from 34 kWh to 1.1 kWh.

EMC, Cisco and VMware are all on a mission to convert businesses to 100% virtual data centres through the adoption of the private cloud. The partnership is based on VMware's vSphere; Cisco's unified computing system (UCS) and Unified Fabric solutions; and EMC's Virtual Matrix Architecture and Symmetrix V-Max storage systems.

"Eventually we want you to blend [the] cloud you own and [the] cloud you rent with the ability to get data out as well as in -- but that is not happening yet, though," said Chad Sakac, vice president of the VMware technology alliance at EMC.

Ed Burgnion, vice president and CTO of Cisco, said to gain confidence in the market, Cisco must help users increase application VM density as well as boost visibility and control so VMs can be deployed on a larger scale.

However, Dave Wright, senior director and systems engineer, EMEA at VMware, said there are virtualisation security issues that need to be addressed first.

"Most virtualisation today is enforced by OS and application stack. This is complex and ineffective in providing the security needed. It is like having a bulletproof vest below the skin -- no point," he said.

Fear of vendor lock-in slows adoption
It is rare to find a business that is utilising a fully virtualised environment, because many fear vendor lock-in, said Thomas Barrett, sales director of FalconStor, a data deduplication vendor.

"We have a customer that is a charity and their data centre is 50% virtualised -- that is considered high. Most are only at 30%, and within that there is the worry of interoperability between physical and virtual and back again. You do not want to be locked in."

Why are people not going 100% virtual? "Because access to data is critical -- that has not changed. What has changed is the speed that it needs to be accessed. Businesses worry that they won't be able to access their data as easily as they could in a physical environment."

Richard Scannell, vice president and cofounder of GlassHouse Technologies, said the reseller is lucky to see a customer that is over 30% virtualised.

It is not unusual for a business to adopt virtualisation in a development and test environment, but it is rare to find it in production, Scannell said.

"This is where you hit a wall. Home-grown applications have to be rebuilt, as they cannot be migrated to a virtual environment. IT guys do not like this, as it seems like they have wasted their time," he said.

Migrating applications into a virtual environment is considered complex and unnecessary, he said

Both virtual and physical
Nigel Woods, technical director at VAR Intercept, agreed that businesses are doing parts of virtualisation projects but not the whole show.

He said a business may virtualise its servers and applications, for example, but the fear factor stops it from going any further. IT shops are handling more data than ever and no one wants to introduce changes that may break the system.

Challenges of a virtual world
A recent survey by Acronis, a data storage vendor, revealed that 84% of respondents said managing mixed environments was a major concern that could cause companies to doubt going to a fully virtualized environment. A whopping 85% of respondents said they worry about migrating to virtual environments in case it was a one way ticket.

Tony Reid, U.K. services director at Hitachi Data Systems, said risk is a bigger factor than ever, thanks to the continuing recession. Making a wrong IT implementation choice could easily cost an IT pro his or her job. "If it is a customer-facing application that generates revenue, why risk it in a 100% environment if is works fine where it is?"

Kayleigh Bateman is the site editor for

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