HP FORUM: The cost of virtualisation

For a technology that is supposed to make computing easier, virtualisation is becoming quite complicated.

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For a technology that is supposed to make computing easier, virtualisation is becoming quite complicated.

The Hewlett-Packard Technology Forum that starts today in Las Vegas will feature 87 user training sessions on virtualisation, more than any other category, organisers say.

This is a recognition both that virtualisation continues to gain in popularity but also that it poses challenges to end users.

The HP Technology Forum (HPTF) is expected to draw 7,000 attendees. It coincides with the HP Software Universe event expected to draw 3,000 people to Las Vegas, though to a different venue than the Technology Forum.

Despite the appeal of virtualisation as a way to use IT resources more efficiently, the technology adds a layer of complexity that IT managers may not be prepared for and may reduce the anticipated return on investment.

The number of virtualised servers deployed by businesses is exploding "like bacteria in a petri dish," said David Gee, vice president of marketing for HP Software.

Users say they face the same management issues running a virtual environment as a physical one.

"I have to track and monitor who gets access to what, who created it. Are they allowed to do this?" Gee said.

Virtualisation can make a single physical server act like multiple logical servers, improving server utilisation. It allows one server to run multiple software applications simultaneously, reducing the number of computers needed. While virtualisation is commonly used in server environments, it's also being used in desktops, storage arrays, networks and for disaster recovery.

But using virtualisation to consolidate the number of physical servers doesn't mean your management duties shrink proportionally.

CA, the IT management software house, reported in March that 44% of 800 IT professionals surveyed globally "were unable to declare their virtualisation deployment a success."

The survey, conducted for CA by an independent firm, showed that 28% of respondents failed to see the return on investment (ROI) they anticipated, or couldn't determine if they had. Some 40% didn't achieve the cost savings they expected, or couldn't determine if they had.

For one thing, companies don't necessarily save on IT staff costs by virtualising, said Peter Richardson, director of product management at CA.

If a company that runs 300 operating systems on 300 servers reduces that to running 10 virtual servers on each of 30 physical servers, it still has 300 OSs, and related software applications, to manage, said Richardson. Moreover, as more virtual servers are added, those 30 physical servers could be running as many as 500 applications.

CA is making the point to promote its own virtualisation management software, which, Richardson says, manages virtual environments even if there are different brands of servers on the network.

Server vendors offer virtualisation management software, such as HP's ProLiant Essentials Virtual Machine Management software. There also are a few good niche management software products available, "but there is still no fully cohesive virtual management suite," said Andi Mann, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

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