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Virtualization Poses Challenges for IT Pros

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Tales from the frontline of companies deploying virtualization were among the highlights of a webinar this week sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. Constraints on physical space and power in the datacenter were among the key reasons companies participating in a panel discussion gave for moving to virtualization technology.

“We adopted virtualization initially to handle backup and fault tolerance for our primary machines and to handle space and power constraints in the datacenter,” said Michael Diamant, CTO of procurement solution provider MoreDirect.

“We started virtualizing servers because of a lack of power and space in our computer center,” said Debbie Karcher, CIO of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The webinar, “Unlocking the value of virtualization,” was moderated by Jonathan Eunice, principal IT advisor at research firm Illuminata. The panelists were customers of sponsor HP (NYSE: HPQ).

While panelists said virtualization has helped them better manage server sprawl and increased power consumption, they also found some applications were better suited to the technology than others. For example, MoreDirect’s Diamant said that Microsoft’s Exchange had been difficult to virtualize.

Karcher said that SAP had initially resisted virtualization until she proved their apps would work on it. “Vendors still sometimes ask us to move the app to a virtual server if we’re having a problem,” she said. “We push back. We may do it, just to show that the problem is still there after we move it to a physical server.”

Diamant explained that MoreDirect adopted Xen first because the first departments to use virtualization ran on Linux and Unix. But in light of the problems trying to run Exchange on Xen, he hopes to standardize on VMware in the future.

“These are not aspirational virtualization plans,” said Eunice. “These folks are really doing it.”

Controlling virtualization

Asked by about controlling VM sprawl, also known as “cowboy activity,” panelists said they are aware of the issue.

“VMs are kind of like candy,” said Christopher Renece, CFO of FICO, a credit management and compliance practice. “Either people want VMs and they’re all over the place or people hoard them. vSphere 4.0 gives us more management capabilities. We track VMs as assets even though they’re virtualized.”

Karcher said that she supplements vSphere’s management capabilities with Ipswitch’s WhatsUpGold software. Diamant said that MoreDirect also uses WhatsUpGold.

He added that virtualization has broken down a set of silos in IT.

“Like a lot of IT shops, there was a traditional separation between Linux, UNIX, and Windows. We got those groups to collaborate better than ever in the past now that they’re all running in the same environment.”

Diamant added that as an HP customer, he was thrilled when HP acquired LeftHand, because he was already using LeftHand for storage in virtualized environments.

Studying the cloud

While all of the panelists were busy building private clouds and virtualization farms in their own datacenters, they were reluctant to subscribe to the outside infrastructure offered by public cloud providers.

“We are preparing to adopt the cloud, whether it’s provided by Amazon, Microsoft, or HP. But cloud providers need to provide access control, manage data, clean up data, and support compliance,” said Renece.

“I’m worried about compliance,” said Diamant.

“I struggle with the cloud,” said Karcher. She added that Miami-Dade County Public Schools had contracted with Microsoft for cloud-based student e-mail but had issues with single sign-on and security.

“We’re still studying what the cloud is,” she added.

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