CIOs have clearly latched on to the cost savings inherent in server virtualization projects, with Gartner estimating that more than 80 per cent of enterprises now have a virtualization program or project in place. But those CIOs tasked with managing virtual servers across a global environment have to clear some hurdles to effectively optimize their infrastructure.
The fact that a significant learning curve exists is evident by the fact that only 25 per cent of all server workloads are in a virtual machine (VM) environment, according to Gartner. Part of the challenge is that as organizations move to virtualize, they want to extend the same technical principles and assumptions they use to manage their physical infrastructures into a virtualized environment, says Preshan Gandi, Director of Product Marketing for the Server Access and Virtualization Technology Group (SAVTG) at Cisco.
It raises important questions such as: "How do we leverage disparate data centers and connect them in a cohesive way so they look like [one environment] rather than separate data centers? How do we build a consolidated pool of data centers so workloads can migrate [seamlessly] between them?" Gandi says.
CIOs are grappling with these issues at the same time that they're looking for investments in virtualization to deliver higher levels of agility, operational efficiency and innovation in support of the strategic and operational objectives of their internal and external customers.
Many CIOs believe that these outcomes will be achieved when virtualization is integrated into cloud computing strategies. Consider the results of a recent survey from Forrester Research. Approximately 80 per cent of enterprise IT infrastructure decision-makers surveyed believe that consolidation and broad use of server virtualization are high or critical priorities.
The next step is clear, says Galen Schreck, VP & Principal Analyst for Enterprise Architecture Professionals at Forrester Research. "Private cloud is the next evolution of virtualization in their global environments," he says.
As CIOs move their global virtual environments in this direction, experts advise they keep these five considerations in mind:
1. Building bridges creates engineering challenges. Global virtualization allows IT executives to bridge, integrate and better manage a sprawl of data centers that have typically operated within their own islands of automation. A global strategy to virtualize data centers can allow IT managers to consolidate data, create pools of server resources that automatically back each other up, and make more computing capacity available to more people.
Making this happen, however, is easier said than done. "Copying all of the information in these virtual machines, and moving from...islands of automation, is an engineering challenge," Schreck says. Organizations have a few options. They can:
* Try to build their own environment by cobbling together products and services from an array of vendors.
* Partner with systems integrators and other professional services organizations that are rapidly building practices around virtualized cloud-to-cloud environments.
* Rely on the virtualized products and services from a single vendor.
"Either way, the challenge is to try to create a unified environment across all the different data centers," he says.
2. Plan well and keep in sync. While CIOs often hear about the importance of having a long-term road map, it's critical when contemplating a global virtualization initiative. That is where the enterprise architects (EA) come in.
"The EA should be involved with planning the big picture and spelling out how to integrate the different environments," Schreck says. Architecture should not only describe what the migration to an enterprise-wide virtualized environment should look like, it should define the timelines that establish the foundation for global coordination. Getting everyone on the same rhythm of deployment is as challenging as getting all parties on the same page.
"When I think about large global customers who want to scale a geography, depending on how their IT organization was originally organized, it's hard to get things moving at the same pace," says Tim Webb, head of the data center consulting services division for Dell. "A company may be virtualized in one part of the world and still fairly un-virtualized in other parts of the world only because their teams were different," and out of sync with one another.
3. Use tools to track progress and metrics. It is therefore important to design and create common controls and dashboards for use by the entire organization across all geographies to track the pace at which people are virtualizing their databases. Such dashboards also enable organizations to capture the metrics that can be used to compare and contrast the costs and performance of virtual instances with those of legacy servers. They also help identify the processes, technologies and people that are having the best impact on the initiative, Webb says.
That kind of setup also enables the rest of the global organization to tap the expertise of the most experienced people and adopt the proven best practices.
4. Security threats require tailored regional strategies. It is important to correlate security initiatives with the specific circumstances of a region. Not only is the type of threat and level of risk different from one location to the next, so are the rules, regulations and policies that determine the consequences of a breach. Virtualization and cloud infrastructure can lead organizations to a level of standardization that translates into a one-size-fits-all mentality. While standards are good for reducing costs and producing quality consistency, failure to address local security conditions can place the entire organization at risk.
5. Legal and regulatory compliance is a moving target as you cross borders. There is an old saying, "All politics is local." That is certainly the case when it comes to legal and regulatory compliance. Despite the fact that technology allows information and money to flow in an almost completely unfettered fashion around the world, the laws and regulations to which organizations are accountable vary significantly from country to country. This is particularly true when working with personally identifiable information. Different countries have developed significantly different approaches to protecting and enforcing privacy rules. A virtualized environment can create ambiguity about where a particular piece of information may be stored at any given moment in time. This is especially true for global systems that have been designed to dynamically load balance to optimize performance. It is therefore important to overlay a global virtualization initiative with a comprehensive and regionally sensitive governance, risk and compliance strategy.
Patricia Brown is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor who has been covering technology and business for more than 20 years.