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What is Next in Virtualisation?

In this blog post, Tom Brand, virtualisation practice lead at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), discusses what is next in virtualisation now businesses have done their pilot tests... Are they now ready to make the leap of faith to virtualise their wider environments?

If one was to believe the statistics presented by some vendors, you'd be forgiven for thinking the vast majority of organisations are already running extensive levels of virtualisation across their production environments.

In reality, however, many organisations have actually only virtualised the low hanging fruit or are still is the process of piloting their virtual infrastructures. One of the first barriers to virtualisation roll-out is often a lack of understanding of the differences between a Proof of Concept (POC) and a Pilot.

A POC is typically a partial and often standalone solution used to establish that a concept or system satisfies some aspect of the requirements for the complete solution. The proof of concept implementation will not affect business operational data although it may integrate with existing business systems to some extent.

In many environments pilots are actually more like POCs, but unfortunately the pressure to reduce cost and rapidly deliver new services has forced the POC infrastructure to become integrated with production bypassing the wider scope of planning that should be undertaken.

The purpose of a pilot project is to test, usually in a production environment, whether the system is working as it was designed while limiting business exposure.

The transition from running a pilot to virtualising the wider environment shouldn’t be a leap of faith because sufficient design, development and planning should have been undertaken, and here lies another barrier.

The design and planning required for the pilot should in effect be treated exactly the same as deploying the production environment. When a successful pilot has been completed, more often than not, it will simply be rebadged as production and expand accordingly.

At a high level, technology and operations are both key aspects that need to be planned and tested carefully in order to ensure the transition from pilot to production is a strategic success.

Virtualisation pilots often tend to be very technology orientated when, in fact, there should be just as much focus on the operational elements associated with successfully managing the virtual infrastructure.

These operational processes, such as change management, capacity planning, virtual machine (VM) lifecycle management and chargeback, have to be in place during the pilot and have the ability to scale into production.

From a technology point of view, organisations must look beyond the hypervisor and address all the components of the infrastructure that virtualisation has an impact on; such as networks, backup, storage and disaster recovery.

Many pilots simply test the smaller, easy to virtualise, candidates and only focus on performance at the application and operating system layer which often produces unrealistic results.

Organisations must have test strategies that include the full range of potential configurations. This will ensure the infrastructure has the capacity to scale in order to meet the demands of larger workloads as and when they are virtualised.

The classic example of this being storage input/output, where cheaper storage technologies are implemented and VMs perform as expected during the pilot but performance can decline significantly once the infrastructure is loaded or VMs with heavier workloads are introduced.

With an operational strategy and ‘bigger picture’ approach to virtualisation technology planning organisations won’t need to making a leap of faith, they can just cross the bridge to a better place.