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Selling virtualisation to IT bosses may take some planning
Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld

Politics was one of the topics at VMware's user conference last week, but the discussions had nothing to do with the US's midterm elections on the Tuesday. Instead, those on hand for the conference talked about the political manoeuvring sometimes needed to sell a technology that can unsettle the balance of power in an IT department.

Deploying a virtualisation project means that internal business customers lose ownership of a particular server when servers are moved to a shared environment -- something that can make it difficult for IT managers to sell virtualisation to their customers. But there may be resistance among IT staffers as well, particularly if someone on the business side is championing the idea.

Concerns such as those prompted Larry Speights, an employee at a major company in the gas industry, to attend a session at VMworld devoted to the organisational challenges of virtualisation deployments. Speights is working as a technical adviser on a VMware implementation, which represents a new technology for his company.

Control of server resources is an issue, he said. "The various owners of these systems say, 'It's my system, and when it is virtualised, it's not my system anymore -- it is running shared with everyone else,'" he said.

IT staff may feel threatened because the push for virtualisation "is not going through their approval process," said Brad Wagner, a technical lead for platform services at Georgia Pacific. "It's typically a bad thing when the executives agree to a technology and the technical people didn't invent it there."

Wagner and Gary Tierney, senior manager of technical services at Fair Isaac, have both been on VMware systems for about three years and were on a panel here sharing strategies for selling virtualisation internally and working through resistance. Fair Isaac is a provider of analytical services, including credit scores.

The technical side of a business may be afraid of virtualisation because of "a lack of familiarity with the technology," Tierney said. "They see something different and don't want to deal with it."

Tierney said his company turned to virtualisation to help manage server growth. But the change took work, including preparation of what he described as an elaborate presentation for the company. One lesson learned, he said, was the need for tighter integration with IT workers involved in storage and networking. That's because VMware deployments can have an impact on those systems as well.

What often sells business managers on virtualisation are reductions in what business units pay for IT services. Virtualisation can cut hardware and management costs -- savings that can be passed along, said users.

But once virtualisation has been deployed, Tierney recommended that companies not draw distinctions between their physical and virtual servers.

"We wanted everybody to treat [the virtualised servers] like regular servers," said Tierney. "In the beginning, we were having some issues with people accepting virtualisation and what it meant for them."

As a result, Fair Isaac found it easier to just provide the server without "specifying whether it's physical or virtual."