Users Talk Virtualization Highs & Lows

VMware users describe the good, the bad, and the annoying

September 13, 2007

4 Min Read
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SAN FRANCISCO -- VMworld -- Users discussed the highs and lows of their virtualization experiences here yesterday, citing end-user resistance and lack of management standards as their biggest challenges.

Speaking on a panel of VMware customers, Lee James, chief architect of data center platforms and virtualization at London-based BP, explained that getting end users on-board with virtualization is often easier said than done. "Sometimes people are resistant because they don't think that the big systems will work with VMware."

Despite the fact that BP currently has around 1,000 virtual machines (VMs), the exec acknowledged that he still has to use his powers of persuasion. "Bring it down to their level in a language that end users can understand," he advised other IT managers confronted with a similar situation, urging them to sell the benefits of virtualization.

Another participant in yesterday's VMworld panel agreed that virtualization represents a cultural shift for many end users. "To be honest, we have had clients that have said 'absolutely no' [to virtualization]," explained Frank Sabatelli, vice president of virtualization engineering at San Francisco-based financial services firm Igor. Sabatelli's group is running VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) at the company's New Jersey data center. (See The Virtual Answer to Laptop Security and Wanted: Virtual Desktop Services.)

For Sabatelli and his team, taking a cautious approach is key to winning over virtual doubters. "We have to sit down and explain to them what it can offer [and] we have proved it over and over again."Despite these challenges, not all IT managers are confronted with brick walls when it comes to deploying virtualization, as evidenced by one of the other panelists.

"In our environment our biggest challenge has been the other way round," explained Sandeep Thakur, director of information services at Norcross, Ga.-based MedAvant Healthcare Solutions. "Virtualization has caught on, so people want their own machine -- our challenge is to manage the VMs and the underlying storage network."

The exec explained that MedAvant has configured its 50-Tbyte Fibre Channel SAN specifically with this in mind. "We do a pre-allocation of LUNs with spare capacity if we need to bring on more VMs."

Despite the continuing hype around virtualization, at least one panelist taking part in yesterday's discussion highlighted the fact that virtualization is still in its relative infancy. (See Virtualization Is Key to Disaster Recovery, Says VMware's Greene, VMworld to Showcase Storage News, Storage Virtualization Edges On, The Other Side of VMware's IPO, and VMware Vaults on IPO.)

"The biggest challenge in deploying virtualization is, by far, management," said Greg Smith, director of dynamic services at Redwood City, Calif.-based managed services provider T-Systems, a sister company of German telecom giant T-Mobile. "You need to know where you have capacity and where you don't."In particular, the exec bemoaned the lack of industry standards for provisioning virtual machines across hardware from different vendors, explaining that T-Systems has been forced to take matters into its own hands. "We have written a lot of our own code -- we have to write a lot of the procedures and workflow," he said, adding that T-Systems uses VMware extensively on its x86 servers. "We want to see a lot more industry standards brought forward."

The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), which lists IBM, EMC, Dell, Microsoft, and HP amongst its members, is currently working on this issue, and Symantec is also planning to get involved in this space. This week, the vendor announced its Application Director, which will be available in early 2008 and aims to manage multiple VM environments, including VMware ESX Server, Sun Solaris Zones, and IBM's AIX Micropartitions.

Despite these challenges, T-Systems's Smith is nonetheless committed to the concept of virtualization, explaining that it has brought big benefits to his IT operation. "Availability of applications for us is higher with virtualization," he said, in response to a question from the audience. "Because an application is portable, it's not tied to physical hardware."

Igor's Sabatelli also had a good news story, explaining how desktop virtualization helped his firm during a recent crisis. "In Florida, we had an office that was in the path of a hurricane -- we took 80 seats and moved them up to Carolina at the flick of a switch."

BP is also reaping the benefits of virtualization, with James describing the trials of deploying traditional servers and storage on North Sea oil rigs. Every time a physical server went down, BP had to send out a member of its IT staff on a helicopter to fix it, according to the exec.To avoid this hassle and the associated costs, BP developed a system it calls "a computer room in a box," which consists of a couple of instances of VMware's ESX Server and some backup storage hardware.

By shipping virtual servers to the oil rigs, BP can avoid the problems it encountered with physical hardware. In the event of a problem, James says, "We can recover the virtual servers from a template and that can be done on-shore. That has cut down costs dramatically."

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • T-Mobile International AG

  • T-Systems Inc.

  • VMware Inc.

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