Pathways to Data Center Virtualization

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Nitin Mishra is vice president, Product Management & Solutions Engineering for Netmagic Solutions Pvt. Ltd. During his nine years with the company, he has been responsible for hosting and managed services for Internet and enterprise applications.

Nitin-MishraNITIN MISHRA
NetMagic Solutions

Information Technology (IT) departments in organizations have undergone tremendous transformation in the way they operate. A dynamic market environment has put them under pressure to deliver higher levels of service and be more responsive to enabling competitive business objectives. With limited budgets, IT departments are pressured to “do more with less,” and show positive ROI from optimization initiatives.

Enter virtualization. Although virtualization was originally a way to improve utilization of physical servers, it is now being expanded to turn entire data centers into dynamic, agile, services-oriented architectures that accelerate business objectives and competitiveness.

Data center virtualization holds great potential for IT departments. The expected cost savings are tremendous. Virtualization enables efficient sharing of physical server, storage, and network resources that translates into far lower capital outlays and reduced operating expenses. Thus, a virtual data center can support more applications, implement them faster, and maintain higher service levels. Data center virtualization empowers the IT department with powerful new tools for resource scheduling, data protection, and disaster recovery.

The move towards data center virtualization should be based on developing a well-thought-out strategy that aligns overall virtualization objectives to business models. This will help organizations evaluate whether full data center virtualization or extending into a highly automated, highly standardized “cloud model” will best meet the organizations needs.

Moving towards virtualization

Many organizations visualize virtualization as the process of moving business applications from a large number of physical servers to a large number of virtual servers running on relatively few physical machines. In a data center, virtualization is often driven by server sprawl that occurs as new applications are moved and assigned their own servers to minimize the risk of under-resourcing. This allows these applications to operate in isolation from other applications, thereby reducing any unplanned outage that may occur. Server virtualization helps in reducing hardware needs by enabling applications to be isolated inside a virtual machine.

The reason why organizations look at virtualization as an option is to reduce infrastructure complexities, reduce management costs and increase agility. Once an organization achieves these objectives, it starts exploring newer ways to utilize virtualization as a strategy for realizing more tangible benefits. For example, disaster recovery is one such area where businesses can benefit from the flexibility of a virtualized platform by enabling highly available environments in which business-critical applications can run. Virtualization can help in providing highly available environments at a fraction of a cost as compared to a physical data center.

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The benefits of data center virtualization

Virtualizing the data center provides significant savings on floor space, power, and cooling costs, as well as on utilization of existing assets across servers, storage, and networks. While the financial benefits alone are compelling, data center virtualization helps in reducing complexity and streamlining the speed at which IT accelerates the business.

Server virtualization by itself cannot yield all the benefits of virtualization. Virtualizing the data center is a holistic approach to server, storage, network processes and management to create a dynamic, efficient and agile infrastructure. A virtual data center leverages technologies that abstract the relationship between the services offered and the physical hardware. This provides the obvious benefit of consolidating resources into pools that make sharing more efficient. The power of this move multiplies as integration with compute, storage, network, management and security technologies are leveraged to create a synergistic approach.

To leverage all the advantages that come with this process, organizations must look beyond islands of virtualization (virtualized servers for some applications and virtualized storage for others) – to a more coordinated strategy where servers, storage, and network strategies work in tandem. A coordinated strategy multiplies consolidation gains, enables sharing of resources, and simplifies management for a unified infrastructure.

Data center virtualization enables an organization to build a dynamic platform of infrastructure that supports all applications and includes:

  • The ability to migrate live applications from one physical server to another without disruption
  • Increased availability for applications during hardware failure
  • Resource scheduling and load balancing across existing infrastructure
  • Improved backup and disaster recovery
  • Increased performance, scale, and security
  • Integration with storage and network infrastructures

Virtualization Image 2
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In a nutshell

Without question, cost reduction is the primary reason that IT shops launch virtualization projects. Savings occur in the following ways:

Reducing the number of servers

Whether in a stand-alone, rack-mount or blade form factor, a key benefit of virtualization is fewer servers, which in turn results in lower CAPEX.

Reducing energy costs

Fewer servers require less energy and cooling capacity to operate them.

Diminishing real estate costs

Virtualization often enables data center consolidation, leading to the closure of facilities or a reduced footprint.

Productivity savings

There are also productivity savings and efficiencies that can result from virtualization, such as:

Faster deployment

With today’s virtualization packages, IT staff can create new virtual machines almost at the touch of a button, or increase capacity on the fly as needed.

Greater flexibility

When requirements are modified, work groups change or products move into development, virtualization allows supportive IT assets to keep pace more readily than a straight physical environment is able to.

Easier administration

With fewer servers and storage area network (SAN) devices to manage, IT staff, data center operators and network administrators are free to focus on more strategic tasks.

Virtualization Scenarios: Buy, build, or both

Implementing a virtualization strategy across the data center lets an organization allocate and scale resources as needed, deliver services on demand, move data sets, and make management changes on the fly. Building a virtual data center — an internal cloud — saves money, runs far more efficiently, and delivers more elasticity to the business. Depending on its needs, an organization can also look at availing public cloud services to handle periodic (or unexpected) peak demands, or offload resource intensive tasks that it does not want to run in-house, such as backups.

Challenges to adoption

There can be a lot of obstacles to building a virtual data center. Virtualization is still new in many ways, and not fully understood outside of the core IT group. There can be disagreements due to the number and complexity of solutions, and the fact that they cross multiple disciplines. Hence it is advisable that when mapping out your virtualization strategy, consider the barriers to adoption, both inside and outside the organization.

The end of the beginning

A virtualized data center lays a foundation for self-service IT. The streamlined data center becomes a pillar on which to build out the entire IT infrastructure, including desktops, servers and networks. An optimized infrastructure efficiently manages user requests and applications. Consolidation, resource allocation and workload balancing save companies money, ensure high availability for critical systems, and are part of an overall energy management infrastructure, including efficient power and cooling systems.

Planning ahead

Things that don’t begin well tend not to end well. Planning is the single most important step in generating the greatest returns. An organization’s success with virtualization will depend on the time it spends on discovering its requirements, learning about all available options, and planning with best practices in mind. Whether managing physical or virtual infrastructure in a test or production environment, the goal is always the same: delivering the expected service to the organization.

If an organization has an infallible plan, it can enjoy the benefits of virtualization without being derailed by the risks. When deciding on best practices, keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure that as you adopt virtualization, your technology decisions continue to be focused on meeting service level agreements (SLAs), recovery point objectives (RPO), and recovery time objectives (RTO).
  • Your management infrastructure should serve as a common platform across heterogeneous storage, server, desktop and application environments. Beware of technology providers who claim to provide robust feature sets for virtual environments if they only support their own proprietary technology platforms.
  • Most organizations will want to take advantage of multiple hypervisor platforms over time; make sure you don’t get locked into any single one. Make decisions that will enable your company to remain flexible, maintain freedom of choice, and ensure that what you have today will work with what you deploy in the future.
  • Look for production-proven management solutions. Test and development are different from production environments; you cannot afford to take any risks in production when it comes to the data that is the lifeblood of your organization.
  • Learn which IT processes are most impacted by the architectural and other changes that virtualization introduces, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

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