Let's Get Virtual

Virtualization isn't all or nothing - you can reap the benefits by doing it gradually

June 9, 2004

4 Min Read
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The Next-gen Data Center Forum recently hosted a Webinar on Building the Next-Gen Data Center.” During the Webinar, the audience was polled on a number of data center topics, and one in particular caught my attention.

When asked, "What are the biggest challenges to migrating to a virtualized data center model?" the audience response was very telling. The bulk of the audience (80 percent) responded in one of three ways:

  • 1. They needed to know more about the technology

    2. They felt the technology was not yet ready

    3. They simply don’t have the budget to implement the technology

Clearly, enough folk have questions on the topic of data center virtualization that it's time to revisit the basics.

Let's start with a definition. Just what is this virtualization that's supposed to be the foundation of the next-gen data center? Essentially, virtualization is the pooling of IT resources in a way that masks the physical nature and boundaries of those resources from users. This allows companies to meet logical resource needs with fewer physical resources – in other words, do more with less.

Although the concept may seem esoteric, virtualization is a proven and time-tested method used in many common technologies today, such as Frame Relay networks, virtual LANs, logical partitions (LPAR), and RAID. What distinguishes next-gen virtualization from these more familiar iterations is a more generalized focus on the overall data center, as well as higher security, more fault tolerance, and more sophisticated management systems.

In the next-gen data center, the new virtualized compute, storage, and networking infrastructures are integrated to enable significant savings in capital and operational costs. A virtualized environment, for instance, allows you to automate many routine operational tasks such as provisioning, management change, and equipment upgrades. Even more importantly, a virtualized data center is more flexible, allowing managers to respond more quickly to changing business requirements.

Sounds compelling, doesn't it? It probably sounds expensive, too. And it could be, if it's done from scratch.The good news for enterprises is that it's not necessary to make a full commitment to a virtualized data center model all at once. In fact, before taking steps to move to an overall virtualized architecture, an organization needs to add virtualization in the individual parts of its data center.

Virtualized solutions are available today for all major sectors of the data center – network, server, and storage. How your organization rolls out virtualized devices largely depends on your unique priorities and challenges. However, here are some recommendations to get you started:

First, start by virtualizing the infrastructure for a single new application, instead of trying to revamp your whole data center. You can achieve the immediate benefits of lower costs, greater flexibility, and automation of routine tasks. By starting with a small project initially, you can gain experience in a controlled environment. Over time, you can roll the virtualized infrastructure out on a wider scale.

Alternatively, you can start by implementing a single piece of virtualized technology. For example, as your networking equipment needs to be upgraded, you can refresh outdated appliances with new virtualized equipment instead of continuing to add more equipment or single-function devices to the network. Virtualized networking equipment is a good place to start, since, unlike server or storage equipment, it is more independent and not as closely tied to application architecture and database performance.

By gradually adding virtualization to the network environment, your IT staff gains experience with the technology and can experience first-hand the efficiency it brings in parts of the environment, providing an opportunity to see cost savings immediately. As the virtualized technology proves itself on small, controlled projects, you can start converting existing applications to the virtualized infrastructure.You don’t need to rush to replace perfectly serviceable equipment, but rather, as the cost to maintain your legacy infrastructure grows, you can gradually move applications over to the virtualized infrastructure. There are many points within the application lifecycle where it makes sense to evaluate whether or not to include virtualization. Continue to monitor your system and gauge the tradeoffs at each of those points. This ensures you’ll make a gradual and phased move to virtualization.

It’s important to remember that virtualization isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. The reality is that it can be done in stages – each bringing its own set of benefits.

— Dave Roberts, VP Strategy and Co-Founder, Inkra Networks

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