Research and Markets has announced the addition of Infrastructure Virtualisation: Transforming the Way IT is Delivered to their offering.
As organisations in both the Public and Private sector struggle to make their IT infrastructures less of an inhibitor of change and more of a vehicle capable of adapting to constantly-changing demand, so the concept of virtualisation has gained significant interest and momentum. In effect, IT Infrastructure Virtualisation creates the conditions needed to support the flexible use of IT resources in pursuit of the organisation’s strategic intent.
This, however, is not purely a technical challenge, but requires an organisational change from the business unit concept of self-autonomy towards a pooled resource model across the entire organisation. This shift in how IT resources are deployed and consumed within the organisation requires the structure to be transparent so that management can be performed based on corporate priorities, and the cost and value of these priorities can be clearly seen.
Effectively, IT is being moved from a business unit-funded project structure (where the head of department bids for, and provides, the initial capital for the IT project with the on-going maintenance expense being funded from a central, corporate budget), towards a mixed, pay-as-you-go model, where the corporate budget funds the capital costs associated with providing the underlying infrastructure, and the business units are charged for the services they consume and pay for the deployment of any new services required.
The IT infrastructure that supports the organisation has evolved in a piecemeal fashion over a number of years, and this evolution has created significant problems for Chief Information Officers (CIOs). The biggest issue is currently that of the proportion of IT spending and resources dedicated to maintenance activities, rather than adding new value to the organisation.
This situation is compounded by the siloed approach taken to IT resource allocation and deployment within organisations, which in turn creates the conditions associated with underutilisation of IT resources and inhibits the IT department’s ability to remain agile in its response to ever-changing business dynamics. Software licensing and vendor support models have yet to catch up with the IT virtualisation market, and so early adopters are struggling to operate fully compliant IT environments. Because effective virtualisation translates images to a file like structure; then when a server or a desktop suddenly becomes a file, the likelihood of it being copied at some point suddenly increases and this in turn could lead to problems.
Moreover, the standard task of software auditing becomes something of a challenge when virtualised environments are introduced.
Virtualisation, as a technology, is a step towards the redesign of how IT is delivered and consumed by customers. Butler Group considers that the transformation of organisations from siloed business units towards a virtual business process-driven architecture is supported by the adoption of Infrastructure Virtualisation. The key benefits of IT virtualisation can be characterised in the following generic ways: It increases the IT department’s ability to be more agile and flexible with the allocation of resources, enabling high-priority tasks to be guaranteed the resources needed to meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
It can reduce operational IT costs and improve the financial return organisations can expect to receive from their IT investments. It improves the quality of service that customers, both internal and external, can expect from IT. It reduces energy consumption, which enables organisations to reduce their carbon footprint. It is a stepping stone towards an adaptive IT infrastructure paradigm, where internal IT capacity is augmented by additional external resources to meet both expected and unexpected peak demands, and business sectors.
This new approach extends beyond just thinking about the traditional view of IT virtualisation (i.e. server consolidation) and it is increasingly being seen by CIOs and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) as a strategic technology that organisations should consider as a solution to breaking the rigid links between applications, physical hardware, platforms and middleware, and end users; so that the IT department is able to meet the demand that business is placing upon it in today’s ever-changing world.
Many organisations initially adopt IT virtualisation in order to save costs through server consolidation, but then realise that other benefits are possible when operating with a virtualised infrastructure, and so IT virtualisation then becomes a strategic part of the overall IT plan. Technology Issues Virtualisation now operates across a much wider spectrum than just x86 server virtualisation; it encompasses networks, storage, applications, desktop, and data centres. We believe that by combining these technologies organisations can realise significant benefits, and transform their IT infrastructure from a static to a dynamic resource that can help enable the business to meet its strategic goals.
Server virtualisation technologies operate by using one of three basic methods: emulation – making one resource imitate another resource; partitioning – making one large resource appear as many smaller resources; and clustering – making many resources appear as one large resource. The use of these capabilities and technologies has developed widely different applications, and many organisations will have different instantiations of these technologies within its data centre. Understanding these capabilities, and how their usage differs, is key to organisations extracting the maximum benefit from its server infrastructure.
The low- and mid-range server market is the area that receives most coverage in terms of the different techniques used in server virtualisation. Emulation is the approach taken because the IA-32 instruction set used in the x86 architecture was not designed for virtualisation. There are two principal approaches to virtualising: Hypervisors (or ‘bare metal’ virtualisation) and hosted virtualisation (where the guest operating system(s) sit atop an existing operating system).
Partitioning is a vendor-specific solution to how enterprise-class servers can be transformed from large, monolithic computing engines to multiple, smaller resources; thereby increasing utilisation figures and enabling organisations to obtain better returns on their IT investments. Clustering technologies can be used for a number of different purposes depending on the organisation’s exact requirements.
The primary reason behind the deployment of clusters is to provide High Availability (HA) of systems, but other reasons include Network Load Balancing (NLB), which enables scaling for Web applications; High Performance Clustering (HPC), which was traditionally used in scientific and research scenarios, but is increasingly becoming accepted in the commercial market; and internal grid computing, which uses the organisation’s existing resources to perform many parallel actions.
Storage virtualisation helps organisations to manage their storage resources more efficiently in order to achieve higher utilisation rates. It was developed predominantly to work in Storage Area Network (SAN) environments, where the high costs of implementing a SAN in the early days of this technology were compounded by poor utilisation rates.
The technology has developed rapidly since it was first introduced by early adopters and it now offers organisations much more flexibility as it allows them to use virtualisation as part of their Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) strategy. Desktop, or presentation layer virtualisation, is an area that has witnessed significant advancements in recent years; evolving from the thin-client technologies first introduced in the late 1990s, to the new, server-hosted, VDI solutions that provide most of the benefits of a traditional PC but with greatly reduced management and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) costs.
Butler Group believes that VDI will appeal greatly to those organisations seeking a more manageable yet flexible desktop environment. However, the removal of desktops and/or laptop computers requires a significant cultural change, and so it will take some time before VDI becomes pervasive. Computer application-related incidents represent 35% of all calls to the IT help desk, and cost on average GBP 6K per month per 1000 calls.
If IT is to seriously address its operational costs, then it must look to improve the approach to delivering support, and with the cost difference between a user self-service approach and a help desk agent approach being over GBP 10 per incident, CIOs can make significant savings by employing technology that enables user self-service.
Application virtualisation provides a method of delivering and managing applications at the desktop, or server, that can eliminate the need for users to call a help desk agent: because this technology does not require the user to have elevated privileges to stop, start, install, or delete applications, which means that providing the user is authorised to the application they can reset it themselves, in most instances this resolves the immediate problem.
Butler Group estimates that organisations can save GBP 4K per 1000 help desk calls per month, which translates to a GBP 28K per month saving (this figure is based on the average number of 7561 monthly help desk calls as reported in the Help Desk Institute’s (HDI) 2004 survey) if organisations employ application virtualisation and implement user self-service solutions for its commonly-reported incidents that are resolved by an application reset. Virtualised environments – especially virtualised server environments – can deliver significant positive impact on IT budgets as well as IT operations.
However, there is a very real chance that any savings made could be stripped away as virtual server sprawl ensues. The instrumentation and management of virtualised IT environments is vital to corporate IT wellbeing, and so ‘making do’ with existing tools and monitors is just asking for trouble. If no management strategy is in place, then Butler Group would advise against the use of virtualisation in production environments. Established IT management tool vendors are updating their toolsets to better accommodate virtualised environments, and they are being joined by new entrants into this growing market.
An organisation’s network infrastructure forms the platform on which its application delivery systems sit. Comprised of physical equipment, such as cables, fibre optics, hubs, switches, routers, and firewalls, most corporate networks are managed as a complex mix of logical, virtual, and physical circuits. In contrast to the general trend of server and storage centralisation and consolidation, organisations are expanding the reach and range of their networks to encompass partners, customers, tale-workers, home-workers, Managed Service Providers, and of course outsourcers. Enterprise networking is without doubt a highly-specialised area, but IT managers and enterprise architects must understand and appreciate the key elements and concepts of network virtualisation if they are to run successful IT virtualisation projects. Storage and server virtualisation technologies are fast finding favour with data centre managers as they continue to seek new ways in which to optimise their facilities. Ever-changing IT workloads and unpredictable business requests are nothing new, hence the long-held tradition of using virtualisation techniques on mainframes and mid-range systems.
However, the IT boom of the last decade has left many data centres bursting at the seams with dozens, if not hundreds, of underutilised servers and storage systems. Taken together, this mass of equipment places a huge burden on data centre operations and infrastructure, and it also consumes a very large portion the IT budget. Virtualisation technology, used tactically, can generate significant benefits to the IT department and the business; however, Butler Group believes that even greater benefit can be obtained through the strategic adoption of virtualisation in the data centre, and that infrastructure running cost reductions in the order of 40-60% are certainly attainable in many cases.
The IT virtualisation product market is expanding rapidly in both reach and range. On the client-side, established desktop and application virtualisation products are being joined by new offerings that are pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved in this space. Storage virtualisation is another market reaching maturity, with standards agreed and leaders identified.
However, the server virtualisation market is still in a state of flux, even with its well-known vendors; and so here we see interoperability being a major hurdle to overcome for early adopters. Moving from physical to virtual might appear to be straight forward on paper or in the lab, but the migration of production systems into a virtual environment presents a very real set of challenges.
We believe that Infrastructure Virtualisation will continue to see rapid development of new capabilities; however, we anticipate that the market will witness a degree of consolidation where vendors provide the full breadth of Infrastructure Virtualisation capabilities as an integrated solution, rather than the fragmented point solutions that we see today.
We believe that virtualisation will become the dominant technology used in the data centre within the next two to three years. Infrastructure Virtualisation provides the technology to address the three major challenges faced by organisations today, namely: reduce costs, especially in terms of labour as a proportion of the IT budget; be more agile in its response to market changes; and help reduce the organisation’s power and cooling costs, which has the effect of lowering its carbon footprint.
The virtualisation market is fragmented in terms of its maturity, with storage virtualisation being the most mature and open, while server virtualisation is still struggling with many different standards and solutions. However, the biggest problems faced by organisations wanting to adopt Infrastructure Virtualisation today in production environments is the fact that some issues have not kept pace with the rapid evolution of the technology; most notably: the lack of management capabilities across its physical and virtual worlds; the confusing mixture of terminology and capabilities that the vendors use to describe their products; the issue with licensing in a virtual world; and concerns over the interoperability of different technologies so that in a heterogeneous data centre, maximum value can be returned.
However, we believe that progress is being made on all these issues, and we see the adoption of Infrastructure Virtualisation as becoming more accepted in production environments as the entire Infrastructure Virtualisation technology market matures. Above all else, IT Infrastructure Virtualisation must be recognised as a technology that has evolved at the right moment in time due to the convergence of a number of influencing factors, and as such will help organisations address the challenges faced in competing in today’s global economy. We believe that understanding what Infrastructure Virtualisation can deliver, and how it is delivered, is the key to IT departments successfully evolving towards a more efficient model for deploying and consuming IT resources.