Virtualization has been the buzzword for a very long time. It has been touted as the magic wand that would help save valuable funds. While several large companies have been able to clear this concept with their management, the medium sized companies have been unable to get around the management's resistance to change. The age-old approach of a spacious server room, with imposing machines whirring, and hopefully not beeping, has been phased out. Even traditionalists have advocated the shift to virtualization. But, the biggest obstacle that stops CIOs in adopting the technology is the management pitch. CIOs if you are reading this story pass it to those in management. We, at PCQuest, will give them the virtualization pitch.
'Typically, legacy environments have servers running at less than 20% utilization most of the time. Such servers are good candidates for virtualization,' said Kothandaraman Karunagaran, Director, Global Infrastructure and Enterprise Services, CSC, India.
Kamal Goel, VP technology at IIFL agrees. 'A few applications do not utilize all the resources of the server; hence we use software to virtualise and create multiple virtual machines.' These virtual machines then allow other applications to use the unutilised resources hence creating an environment where every single resource is utilised.
'The biggest problem is when you have all your applications on one server and there is a problem, let's say with your file server. You have to shut everything down. The people working on Tally will have to stop working as well,' said Mayanka Parekh, Director, Hazel Infotech. Parekh insisted that to save time and resources virtualization was a necessity. Parekh also explained, 'My sales guys can access the server remotely and through virtualization can enter their data without sending it to the office in a spread sheet.' The spread sheet, he explained, would have to be earlier entered into the system by a data entry operator and would increase per employee numbers and the corresponding costs.
How much does it cost?
It isn't just the array of server space that will be inherently saved. The technology cuts down on electricity consumption by employing fewer machines and the air conditioning cost therefore drops. Though this might not be enough, but it will in the long term help in carbon credits and add to the green initiative. Also, several solutions are freeware and won't cost a paisa in the form of third party applications.
'There is a dramatic decrease in recurring cost. We have reduced couple of racks from the data center and hence get a direct monthly saving per rack per month and now we can provision any server in less than 15 minutes,' said Kamal Goel.
The savings on an average is close to 20 percent on hardware costs. Several smaller costs like that of a strong antivirus software and backup options can be avoided through hardware virtualization. A virtual machine's configuration is more flexible than a physical one. A virtual machine can also be controlled and monitored easily than a physical one, while the concept of desktop virtualization reduces the entire concept of a single physical machine.
How does it work?
Different types of virtualization solutions can be used by companies. A BPO would be ideal to run hardware virtualization, where a supervisor could control and access the kind of work done on the machines at a single point. The resources needed by these machines are lower and can be sourced from a host machine which could be handling several other clients, thus making it easier for the management to collate data from a single place and make varying analysis. Virtual Memory is one of the more popular methods of utilising resources. Popularly used in companies devoted to coding and designing, this technology lets the client believe it is accessing one continuous source of memory which can be collated from different sources to make it one pool from which client machines access the resource. This method then utilizes the resources which are not being used and employs it for the process. Storage virtualization is used in banks and more popularly where employees constantly deal with sensitive data. This technology presents a logical space for storage and then takes on the actual physical location mapping by itself. The data thus is stored at three different locations on the network without the user knowing the exact spot of storage. Though virtualization is a buzz word, not everyone can switch to this concept. The keyword here is multiple system-multiple places. As one CIO said, 'You can't jump into virtualization without automation. Automation is the first step to virtualization. The accounts department might have shifted but the HR doesn't. They like paper. The first step to shift to virtualization is automation. The entire company has to get digital.'
Parekh believes the first step is to generate awareness of the product. Parekh very strongly states that the only way to run a successful virtualization project was to establish a strong, very high end robust server.
But before the awareness, the CIO has to remind himself of the additions he can make to his armoury which will make working and the turnaround easier. A company with a team of 35 people logging on to the same application virtualizing would be a wasted effort. The CIO has to understand that if the RoI is higher than the current costs only then is virtualization is the switch possible.
The next step 'could be in training the team with a few business users and to migrate the test setup first to virtualization with one or two production servers,' said Kamal Goel. The process which is can be easily migrated through virtualisation is the file system. A virtual memory could be the easiest way to start, it has been said to be simplest to implement by industry experts. Peer experience through seminars and white papers is also recommended by industry veterans.
'There is no skilled support staff in the market to help,' said Parekh, 'a vendor might tell you that on a virtualized server you can run virtualized applications-no it can't.' Parekh maintained that the support staff have not been given enough training, and even though the concept has been around for a while not many have understood the depth of technology.
Another problem CIOs spoke about was the high one-time cost. A high-end server of a standard configuration of 64 GB RAM, four processors and terabytes of space will cost in the range of Rs 10-15 lakh, where as a regular server costs Rs 4 lakh. Parekh also explained that several vital applications might not work on the virtualized setup. “If I ask the Tally guys 'Can your application run on a virtualised environment?' they don't have an answer because they don't know. Not enough awareness.” CIOs have also been agonised over patches. Upgrade patches might render a few tweaks made in the functioning useless. “If HP comes up with a new printer, it might not be compatible in a virtualised environment, what do I do now?” said a CIO.
Kamal Goel however, had a solution: plan it so well that you don't need to come across these problems.