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Is All Virtualization Destined for the Cloud?

A Contributed Article by Mike Thompson, SolarWinds’ director of business strategy for virtualization and storage

It seems that the message to the millions of virtualization users is that if you are not either working in a cloud environment or moving to a cloud environment, you are behind or you have yet to be enlightened. 

Vendors, press and analysts publish maturity curves that often show the progression through which IT professionals should be moving to achieve cloud enlightenment. Often, the typical virtualization user would be in the “immature” portion of these maturity curves with a long road ahead of them before they get to cloud “nirvana”. 

 

 

The Road to the Responsible Cloud by Dennis Drogseth, EMA. February 2011 EMA Analyst's Corner

 

Surprisingly, however, businesses don't seem to be following that line of thinking with their wallets. Forrester's Private Cloud Market Overview  report shows that while many people are thinking about the cloud, only six percent of those surveyed had implemented a private cloud. The problem with moving everything to the cloud is that not all workloads are applicable to the cloud. Workloads that are static or low volume and are difficult to standardize and automate typically don't provide enough return on investment to justify a private cloud. This, combined with difficulty in changing human processes, risks, business disruption, and the expense of moving to a cloud infrastructure, doesn't always make sense. 

The Cloud Isn't Right for All Environments

There are a number of reasons why many virtual environments may not be appropriate candidates for the cloud:

  • Virtualization environments that have business processes cannot readily be standardized due to high variability in the business requirements.
  • Static workloads, especially those that are highly optimized for performance, are not good candidates for moving to a highly dynamic cloud environment. Many times, these types of systems still run portions of the environment on physical systems for optimal performance.
  • Total cost of standardizing and automating, including the effort and time to change technology, IT, and business processes, can be higher than the return on investment (ROI).
  • SLAs covering business loss are not available in many public clouds or are more difficult to provide in a private cloud environment. This fosters the viewpoint that virtual-to-cloud migration is accompanied by increased risk and uncertainty.
  • Migration to the cloud calls for changing the monitoring and management system on the virtualization environment to suit the cloud environment. Cost savings with the new management system may not be as high and immediately realizable as before.
  • Integration and data migration challenges may apply when different types of business processes are being standardized and automated into one cloud platform.

Having factored in all these challenges in the practical reality of the situation, one can ask, "Does that mean the status quo of virtualization is something to be put up with rather than moving to the cloud?"

Optimizing a Virtual Environment

Even if the cloud is not the right answer for many current virtual environments, there is still the opportunity for substantial cost and productivity gains by optimizing the existing virtual environment. There can be huge gains by reducing cost, streamlining low-value labor tasks, optimizing hardware utilization, and increasing business response time and flexibility of the existing virtual environment - many of the same value propositions that are promised from the cloud. 

Some of the areas to consider when looking at how to optimize an existing virtual environment include:

  • Server hardware - Most environments have not fully optimized server resources including CPU, memory, disk and I/O. The first step is typically to improve the visibility into current usage patterns and conditions to identify capacity trends that allow users to "right-size" their VMs. Monitoring virtual machine performance also allows the user to increase the system resource utilization safely knowing that they can identify performance issues or capacity trends before they affect performance.
  • Storage - The interactions between storage and the compute environment can have an impact on performance. Coordinated management of both compute and storage systems in a virtual environment can improve utilization, prevent over-provisioning, and prevent SAN performance bottlenecks.
  • Control VM Sprawl - VM Sprawl can have a substantial impact on storage costs. Cost savings can be multiplied if zombie VMs or other low-value VMs take up storage that is also being backed up or is part of a disaster recovery/failover site.
  • Software - Not all software licenses are optimized for a virtual environment including the cost of the virtual environment itself. Should you load up your servers or distribute your Windows VMs evenly? Is your vSphere license optimized? Additionally, with recent (and anticipated) improvements in Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, a strategy of using VMware® for production and Hyper-V for lower value workloads may make sense for some environments.
  • Labor - How many IT shops have a list of optimization projects that they can't get to because they spend the majority of their time "fighting fires?" Gaining better visibility into the virtual environment can help transform the results of hard work from "treading water" to the ability to drive towards new business goals.
  • Alignment with business goals - Improved visibility and capacity planning for the virtual environment are critical to ensuring that the organization is able to respond with speed and agility to changing business demands.

Finding the Right Balance

While the cloud clearly has a valuable place in the IT ecosystem, it should not be the objective for all virtual environments. The cloud isn't the right fit for many types of workloads. A well-planned, optimized and managed virtualization environment can reap many of the same benefits promised by the cloud.

It may be smart to think about utilizing a colocation center for data storage. As one may suspect, these centers are responsible for safely holding large amounts of data. These centers are located in various areas of the country and the hardware is maintained and cooled with utmost care by the employees. A small to moderate sized business can see numerous benefits from switching to colocation. It ensures that data will not be erased, nor will it be stolen. Cloud colocation is a state of the art method of storage, and it gives business owners one less thing to worry about.

A virtual environment can be optimized to achieve strong business and IT benefits. A key to driving these benefits is gaining better visibility into the entire virtual environment. Managing performance, proactive capacity planning, reducing VM Sprawl and getting a unified view of both storage and virtualization can drive significant financial and productivity gains. 

The sky isn't cloudy everywhere - optimized virtualization is likely to remain a dominant component of the IT landscape for a long time to come.

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About the Author

Mike Thompson is Director of Business Strategy for Virtualization and Storage at SolarWinds, a leading provider of powerful and affordable IT management software. Thompson has a background in virtualization, cloud management, and systems management strategy and product management.

Also, be sure to check out Choosing and Managing your Hypervisor Solution.

Published Monday, June 04, 2012 7:25 AM by David Marshall
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