I really haven't met anyone recently who thinks that virtualizing as much of their environment as possible isn't a good idea -- at least in the abstract.
I mean, if you're a career IT person, it's a pretty attractive prospect.
Sure, there are issues, challenges and concerns. If doing this was easy, everyone would be doing it already, right?
This specific discussion comes up when I'm discussing private clouds with an enterprise customer.
Generally speaking, they like what they see, and ask how they should get started.
The inevitable response? You've got to get busy virtualizing as much of your environment as you can. The sooner, the better.
So, what's holding you back?
And that can lead to some interesting responses.
The Reasons Vary
Now, I know it's considered poor form and a breach of some unwritten protocol for vendor types like me to ask uncomfortable questions.
My apologies in advance. I guess I never got that memo.
So, if you're with me, let's go down the common responses I've heard when I ask "why aren't you doing more with virtualization?"
They're all valid concerns to a certain degree.
#1 The Management Tools Aren't There Yet
Yes, this one is hard to argue. We can point to clear gaps and shortcomings in the current toolsets and frameworks for fully virtualized environments.
But there's more to it than that.
First, there's probably more there in terms of industry capabilities than you might be aware of, from EMC and others. This particular area is moving really fast right now -- when's the last time you took a serious look?
Moreover, if something you're looking for isn't there today, rest assured that it'll probably be there very soon. It's moving that fast.
Second, I point out that *every* enterprise landscape has shortcomings in the management stack -- it's the imperfect world we live in. Waiting for near-perfection from the virtualized world means that you'll probably be waiting for a very long time indeed.
And then we get to the really big, hairy sensitive issue: you manage a fully virtualized environment very differently than a physical ones. The processes are different. The definition of "good" changes substantially. The thinking is different.
This is a good thing. You manage it more like a cloud, and less like a collection of physical silos.
Do you have the people, skills and processes to manage a fully virtualized environment? The best tools in the world won't address that particular issue.
And that's a very productive discussion.
You Can't Virtualize Big Workloads
This one bothers me, and I need to get over it.
Why? I get to see some pretty big environments with some breathtaking workloads, and with the new generation of vSphere and advanced Nehalem-based storage and supporting storage infrastructure, I haven't seen all that much that's out of the question.
Yep, that's including big, honkin' mainframes -- not to mention some of the largest UNIX servers on the planet.
And almost all of them could be comfortably virtualized with today's technology. Now, roll the clock forward a year or two.
It's likely that you need to convince yourself that this really is the case, and it'll work in your specific environment -- that much I understand -- but the evidence is now overwhelming that you CAN virtualized really big workloads today.
If you really want to, that is.
The Software Vendors Don't Support Virtualization
Yeah, you get a lot of interesting responses from different software vendors on this one, and I can understand why this is bothersome.
First, let's be clear -- this isn't about technology. An arbitrary application running under SUSE Linux or Windows or whatever can't really tell that it's being virtualized.
In most cases, it's about software vendors getting more comfortable with the whole idea of running in virtual machines like VMware -- and providing support. Unfortunately, ISVs can't charge you any more money for the privilege of running their application in a VM.
So, simply put, I've seen customers simply state "we're going virtualized, how will you support us?' and not allowing application vendors to dictate infrastructure strategy.
Most of the top-tier ISVs have made their peace with the idea (Microsoft and SAP come to mind), but one vendor -- Oracle -- has a particular strong and adverse reaction to the whole notion putting their database in a VMware virtual machine.
More on that in a subsequent post.
Here's the frustrating part -- internally, EMC is doing most of its software development under VMware. You'll see more EMC software titles being shipped in virtual containers.
These newer software titles are considerably easier to develop, test, distribute, maintain and support from a software vendor's perspective.
It amazes me that more software vendors haven't figured this one out.
That being said, I meet customers on both extremes. Some say "here's what we're doing" and press ahead, others seem to use it as a reason to go a bit slower.
We Have Legacy Applications That'll Never Run In VMware
Fair enough. There's a ton of stuff on platforms like iSeries and Tandems and lord-knows-what-that-is that people just don't want to touch for all the right reasons.
But what about everything else? Even if you can virtualize 80-90% of your application portfolio, you'll be in a far better world.
Put differently, saying that "everything has to come forward to be seriously considered" mindset means -- well -- you'll never really move forward, will you?
What About (Insert IT Discipline Here)?
Let's face it -- how you do things in a fully virtualized world changes significantly. I would argue "and changes dramatically for the better".
And the list of candidate IT topics that change substantially in this fully virtualized world is very broad indeed. I've written about a few of them (security and backup), but the list can stretch to be very long indeed.
Call me the eternal optimist, but what an opportunity!
It's the rare IT shop indeed that can point to an arbitrary IT discipline and say "we're really good at this, and we don't need to get better".
The reality is that there's *so* much that needs to be changed around IT disciplines, I find it hard not to think of this move to this virtual world as an enormous and strategic opportunity to move IT into the future.
And make the business a lot happier in the process of doing so.
This Scares Us A Bit
Good. It should.
To me, that means you're getting a full appreciation of the opportunity -- and the inevitable challenges -- that lie before you.
It's a breathtaking proposition.
Fundamentally re-engineer your entire IT architecture.
Fundamentally change how you operate, manage and measure IT.
Fundamentally change how the business views IT going forward.
What sane person wouldn't have the occasional anxiety attack?
Breaking It Into Pieces -- Pragmatic Approaches
Here's the good news -- it doesn't all have to happen at once.
I'm starting to meet more customers that have clearly defined the end state they desire, and then start thoughtfully and progressively encouraging the organization to move towards that goal, one small decision at a time.
And this inevitably translates into a bunch of easier, digestible steps that don't put the organization at risk.
For example, a "virtualization by default" policy for all new applications and upgrades, where everything goes into a virtual machine unless there's a darn good reason why, and forcing a plan (with incentives!) to virtualize the app sooner than later.
Or, the increasingly popular "sandbox environment" where IT stands up a baby private cloud, and gets comfortable with on-demand computing and storage for at least part of their environment.
My favorite is the "architected for virtualization" discussion when considering any new servers, networks, storage, management tools, security software, etc.
If it isn't designed for the virtual world, it isn't going on the floor without a very thorough discussion.
The latest one I've seen is a clear and unambiguous message to all IT suppliers -- "we're going fully virtual" -- and having those vendors come back with their plans and roadmaps, or at least a decent explanation why they aren't supporting you -- yet.
Hint: if you decide to do this with EMC (and I encourage you) be prepared to allow enough time to go through a very extensive discussion.
I've also seen some new roles spring up -- appointing some internal IT leader as the "virtualization lead" to accelerate and coordinate the transition without the usual organizational friction, or -- at least -- maybe less of this.
Make No Mistake
The move to private clouds -- and their associated fully virtualized environment -- promises to be one of the most fundamental shifts in IT infrastructure thinking ever.
It will not happen all at once -- but it has started -- and it appears there is no turning back.
The real question is -- how is your IT organization going to get there?