At 2010's family Christmas get-together, one profound comment stood above the rest during a short burst of technology-related conversation: "I don't want to be left behind, but I don't know where to start."
I tried to explain that choosing the technology you want is a little like being in a sweet shop choosing the sweets you want. Decide what you want to do, then "pick and mix" the bits you need to satisfy your hunger. That comment hit the nail on the head for the group I was talking with, but then I failed miserably when it came to their concern for cost. Following my initial statement, someone brought up the value of the technology we were discussing and said: "Just seems expensive for what you get."
I heard that line often in 2010. The process of considering data centre virtualisation product features, cost and value seems to have similarities to a business IT decision-making process.
Within the virtualised data centre, there is a vast array of competing products and services all vying to be the chosen platform within their particular specialisation.
You can choose from a number of server virtualisation vendors; they have products which are tested, approved and often intertwined with each other. Desktop virtualisation is less clear-cut. At a corporate level, the industry is consolidating. Whether it is the more spectacular takeover of SUN by Oracle or HP's convergence approach to offer all of its products under a single banner, over time, we will see even fewer companies offering a wider choice of solutions.
Virtualisation data centre major players
The race for the desktop type 1 hypervisor still has three main players:Citrix, VMware and Microsoft. From each vendor a range of complementary products exist through development or alliances that provide a more complete solution. However, the laptop hypervisor's challenge is that the hardware compatibility list is small and the offered solutions do not meet end users full requirements. Perhaps next year improved collaboration between hardware and software vendors will fix this flaw, and portable computing products will ship with a hypervisor as standard.
Regardless of the technical strategy chosen, any approval requires business justification. Your CEO will want value and want to measure IT investment against the overall business objectives.
Storage and network virtualisation has a greater role to play. Much of the technology being used is not groundbreaking, but its wider adoption within production data centres is. Over the next year, more appliances and applications will become approved for a virtualised platform.
Today, one of the largest providers of hotel management software, Micros-Fidelio, does not sanction its offerings on a virtualisation platform although the company sits on a HP case study evangelising about VMware. I am sure there will be a change there. Ask the larger global resellers of Microsoft CRM to configure the application on a virtualised platform and you will be met with resistance, although Microsoft does approve of virtualised CRM. The ability to virtualise all the functionality of applications and appliances within the data centre is getting there, meaning a wider choice.
None of the discussion around virtualising the data centre is relevant to companies that choose the outsourced data centre or cloud route. Understanding the technology deployed by a cloud service provider is useful when evaluating what technically underpins the service being offered. The mindset required to manage a cloud service is different to that required to build and maintain a modern internal data centre. However, for many companies, the cultural challenge and impact of outsourcing that move to the cloud adds to the existing IT challenge – they do not replace it. The hybrid approach is being perceived as the safer option to choose.
Regardless of the technical strategy chosen, any approval requires business justification. Your CEO will want value and want to measure IT investment against the overall business objectives. During the beginning of the evaluation process, the ROI calculator or calculations will be introduced. This will help the decision-making process but may not provide the metrics to align with the organisation you are involved with. Perhaps in 2011 a more independent set of ROI calculators will be available, removing the suspicion that these tools simply promote the vendor that produced them.
That is unlikely, but what remains a certainty is that theCIO will continue to be pressured to control costs and produce more value from IT in the data centre. Value-added resellers, direct market suppliers and service providers will be increasingly scrutinised to supply their goods and services at a lower cost. Negotiation to achieve the lowest purchase cost will require an understanding as to how each individual vendor supply chain works. The traditional purchasing view that keeps the cost price as low as possible may overlook the value that a supplier can provide. Whilst some organisations view the larger reseller as being able to provide the resources required, resources can be provided by smaller suppliers and often on a more flexible basis.
What's in store for virtualisation and the data centre in 2011?
In 2011, many questions may be answered. Will Oracle buy a services company? If so, which one? Will HP invest further in their storage offerings? Will a type 1 hypervisor ship as widely on portable PCs as Windows does?
IT product and service offerings can be presented in a way that makes someone feel as if they are a "child in a sweet shop."
For those of us unable to affect such decisions, the more immediate challenges remain. The CEOs will continue to insist their organisations are increasingly efficient, agile and protected. The CIOs, IT directors and their teams will come under increasing pressure to deliver more for less. Supplier negotiations for improved products and better SLAs that cost less will become a key factor. An improved understanding of the chosen vendors supply chain will allow IT teams to work more effectively with suppliers. For example, understanding the HP reseller reward programmes will lead to better value.
CIOs, IT directors and their teams face a wealth of technological and service offerings. The introduction of cloud services gives them further choices. Navigating through the labyrinth of technologies and strategies will remain an ever increasing challenge.
Fear of adopting newer technologies because of historical events that have highlighted risk, and perhaps even hurt in cases where decisions have led to business pain, is understandable. But for organisations where risk is required to compete, grow and deliver bottom-line profit, each business function must be willing to have its historical thinking challenged. I am not an advocate of high risk, but I am an advocate of sensible business risk. This applies to IT too.
Much like the Christmas dinner conversation, IT product and service offerings can be presented in a way that makes someone feel as if they are a "child in a sweet shop." The truth is, there are some very innovative and useful technologies and services on offer, but they will only add value where they can be sensibly justified. Just because newer technology gives a potential 10% performance difference or the lights on the new management console twinkle more brightly is not a decision starting point. Choosing the most appropriate technologies and having a technical operation and business justification that fits your organisation remain the basis for making the best decisions.
Andrew Cross is the sales director at reseller Sol-Tec Ltd. and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.