Time to consider multiple hypervisor platforms for server virtualisation

Can you trust your virtualised server environment to just one platform? Here’s why a multiple hypervisor approach might benefit your business, according to our data centre expert.

In the virtualised data centre market, a vast array of competing products and services are vying to be the chosen platform. How many type 1 hypervisor platforms should you have? One, two, three? Many organisations with data centres dispersed across counties or countries say the answer for them is more than one.

The obvious reason why multiple platforms successfully exist is that they provide low-cost server virtualisation. Technically competent IT teams on a budget can provision Hyper V and Xen hypervisor platforms for temporary environments, like test and development, without having to face the higher initial and ongoing costs of equivalent VMware licensing.

Organisations that have grown through acquisition may be challenged with welding multiple hypervisor platforms together and may decide to delay a consolidation investment until the economic climate is brighter. I can also understand the logic behind deploying a hosted Hyper-V within a Windows platform, where maybe only two physical hosts are required at a remote branch office. Limiting technical complexity, whilst providing resiliency against hardware failure, is a good strategy for the demanding remote office. Where connectivity is also a challenge, such an approach can provide a solid platform and excellent return on investment.

Just one hypervisor? Think again

Why would an organisation deliberately invest time, energy and hard-earned cash in taking a mixed vendor approach to server virtualisation when one vendor would seem to meet all requirements? I was surprised to be recently presented with an A3 network topology diagram showing three data centres within the same company, each with a selection of servers, blades, SAN storage and switching. Not even the hardware vendor layer was consistent throughout these three data centres. Why would an organisation deliberately invest time, energy and hard earned cash to reach such an end point? 

The IT director with his multiple server virtualisation platforms arrived at that point partly because of cost but mainly because he was not yet convinced whether VMware, Citrix or Microsoft had the most appropriate offering. Mitigation of risk against choosing the wrong hypervisor platform resulted in the multivendor approach. Apart from niggling problems with XenServer, the infrastructure works fine and delivers exactly what his CEO and organisation want. It’s reliable, resilient and it delivers. And it illustrates the confidence that CIOs are gaining in their ability to assess the newer technologies as well as their lack of total confidence sometimes shown in a single-vendor approach.

The current economic climate is driving IT professionals involved in a technology decision-making process to jump through more hoops than before. CEOs want more for less and are And they need value for their shareholders and are taking a much keener interest in the IT department’s activities. Gone for good are the days when data centre managers could present an IT investment justification,  and a board of directors would simply nod with approval and amazement at the benefits their organisation would reap from it.

Now, CEOs understand that there are alternative ways of achieving the same objective and CIOs have to establish clear directions that justify the details of a project. Mixed environments can meet these objectives.

When CIOs have demanding objectives with a static or decreasing budget, they must take more inventive approaches. Just because VMware is perceived as sitting at the head of the server virtualisation table does not mean it will be the hypervisor platform in every situation. Research house IDC releases regular updates highlighting this through its server virtualisation tracker reports, which clearly show a trend towards a mixed approach. IDC reports that Microsoft is winning server virtualisation market share ahead of VMware -- and the reasons are understandable.

Enterprises can take advantage of their original skill investments in both Windows and System Centre. IT staffs like this product set’s built-in clustering, live VM migration as well as the ability to manage ESX servers. For many, the mad rush to call VMware when server virtualisation is mentioned is over, and CIOs are revisiting and challenging the single-vendor assumption that was the safe ground to be on in the past.

The cloud, the hypervisor and server virtualisation

The advent of cloud computing will continue to disrupt traditional thinking. Buying and provisioning technology platforms on the basis of a service-level agreement (SLA) and at a price that excludes detailed technical discussions is slowly gaining momentum.

In the future, when service levels are met and the price is right, will CIOs really care which hypervisor platform sits beneath their remote Windows virtual machines? They care now because of the big element of mystery around hypervisor platforms within a service provider’s data centre. The trust is not there yet. Compliance and governance dictate that a detailed examination of the provider’s hypervisor platform should take place. Once agreed upon and trusted standards are introduced, UK service providers will simply present a badge allowing discussions to revert back to SLA and pricing.

The day will come when CIOs are in a position to trust a service provider and assess products on the basis of SLA and price and won’t care whether that service provider has one, two or more hypervisor platforms.

Andrew Cross is the sales director of virtualisation reseller company Sol-Tec and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK

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