These businesses say they are failing to reap the full benefits of virtualisation technology, which allows organisations to run multiple systems on a single server.
The potential benefit of virtualisation is lower hardware and IT admin costs. Since the software is not running on physical hardware, it needs to share the processing power of the physical server with other applications. As reported in Computer Weekly last week, IT analysts, user groups and users of virtualisation software argue that the licence fee should be lower than a physical server licence to reflect this.
Computer Weekly has now learned that users of virtualisation technology are struggling to get the support of application suppliers.
Gary Sussex, ICT services manager at Newham Borough Council, has encountered this attitude with some of his suppliers. "The biggest problem we have with implementing a true virtualisation environment is their lack of acceptance by third-party suppliers," he said.
It is not clear who should take responsibility for supporting software running on a virtual server. Responsibility seems to fall into a black hole between the middleware supplier and the application supplier.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, for instance, was forced to shelve its plans to move a document management system over to its new VMware ESX Server 2.5 virtual environment because the supplier would not support the application if it was virtualised.
Those companies that have outsourced their IT infrastructure may also lose out, as fees for hosting servers remain the same for both physical and virtual servers, even though virtual servers do not take up datacentre space.
Trevor Didcock, director of information systems at motoring group The AA said, "Our infrastructure outsource deal is structured so that we pay for the maintenance of each Unix/Windows image. Given this structure, we pay as much for virtualised images as we do for separate physical servers."
IT departments usually licence server software using central processing unit (CPU) based pricing. Here the licence fee relates to how many processors are installed on a physical server. But IT professionals are concerned that such server-based licensing schemes do not accurately reflect usage when applications, middleware and operating systems are run in soft partitions using virtual servers.
In fact, some suppliers do not differentiate between a physical server and a soft partition. This means that a user buying a large, multi-processor server will end up paying to license the software on all the installed processors, even if the application uses one or two.
Ben Booth, European chief technology officer at market research company Ipsos Mori, said the underlying problem was that companies had to pay the same licensing fees for running the applications on virtual servers as they would for running each application on dedicated hardware. This cuts into the savings they make on hardware costs from running virtual servers.
Another difficulty is the lack of standards governing how software should be licensed for a virtual server environment. Roy Illsley, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "We are not seeing any standard techniques becoming apparent, as each software company seems to have its own way of addressing the issue."
Forrester Research has found that software licensing and support agreements are rarely virtualisation-friendly. The analyst company said users with substantial numbers of virtual servers would not save any money on software over comparable numbers of real servers.
"Some suppliers still resist supporting virtual machines on the grounds that they are not among their certified platforms," said Forrester vice-president Frank Gillett.
For many IT users, suppliers appear to be behind the virtualisation technology curve, offering costly licensing and complex support.
Nick Kalisperas, director for delivery at suppliers trade body Intellect, said, "The work we are doing has not yet focused on virtualisation licensing. Users should work with their suppliers to find the best licensing scheme."
What is clear from the IT managers and directors contacted by Computer Weekly is that they feel the IT industry must tackle the issues concerning virtualisation licensing and support to help them deliver what promises to be a breakthrough architecture for datacentres.
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