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The adoption of virtualization continues to accelerate. According to a recent survey conducted by Vanson Bourne (and commissioned by virtualization management vendor Veeam), more than 92% of large businesses have adopted virtualization, with four out of every ten servers now being virtual.
The virtualization space is also shaping up to be a battle of Goliaths. VMware is still the top vendor by far, but Citrix and Microsoft are coming on strong. Meanwhile, plenty of other vendors, including many startups and service providers, offer a range of ancillary virtualization products and services, including everything from security suites to virtual infrastructure monitoring services.
It’s a confusing landscape that will only get more so in the near term. To help you make sense of it, I polled a group of nearly 50 recent purchasers of virtualization products and services, asking them what the deciding factors were as they selected their solutions. Here are five of the most common and important questions they asked before making a decision.
1. How will virtualization affect security?
Prior to launching virtualization efforts, the State of New Mexico Human Service Department suffered a major security breach. As a result, the agency implemented heavy-duty security, including air gaps, strict partitions and new policies separating various assets into secure zones.
As with many other organizations, the NM HSD embraced virtualization as a way to stretch dollars, while also hoping to achieve a number of other benefits. However, they feared that security would bring those efforts to a screeching halt.
Gurusimran Khalsa, systems group supervisor for NM HSD, had concerns about VMware’s vCenter. “That one tool rules everything,” he said. “If someone gets access to vCenter, they gain access to everything.”
Adding to those worries, NM HSD stores social security numbers, personal health information and other sensitive data. Thus, the agency must comply with a number of regulations.
The agency sought a solution that would allow them to duplicate their robust security profile in a virtualized environment. After evaluating a number of vendors, they chose a combined solution from Altor Networks (now Juniper) and HyTrust.
Altor provides virtual firewalls, while HyTrust delivers access control, policy enforcement and tools that help with compliance. With security concerns addressed, NM HSD moved aggressively to virtualize more of their infrastructure. “
I’d estimate that we’re over ninety-five percent virtualized,” Khalsa said. “Without those two security products, there is no way we’d be this far along.”
2. How will it change workflows?
Seattle Children’s Hospital prides itself on the attention its staff pays to patients and their families. Unfortunately, traditional computing was distracting staff from that focus.
“In the team room, it took a doctor two minutes to log in to the workstation,” said Jake Hughes, Senior Enterprise Architect. “Then he logged out – which locked the workstation so nobody else in the team room could use it. When he went to the patient’s room, he had to spend another two minutes logging in before he could pull up the patient’s file. The patient and family were just sitting there, watching. It sent the wrong message.”
Seattle Children’s IT staff supports 5,500 workstations with a staff of approximately 180. Seattle Children’s used Citrix XenDesktop to create single sign-on access to multiple siloed applications with just one reconnect.
For optimal access to the VDI, Seattle Children’s then implemented 3,000 Wyse Xenith zero clients (a term used for extremely thin clients) across all its clinical environments, with another 1,000 devices to be implemented soon.
The combination has fundamentally changed workflows. VDI logon times have been reduced from minutes with a PC, or 50 seconds on a VDI client, to just 20 seconds on the Wyse Xenith. Users just log on once at the beginning of the day, and then move around the hospital, with the option of plugging their Gemalto smart cards into the smartcard readers of whatever units they want to use at the time.
They type in their PINs, or user ID and password, and within seconds, they are reconnected. When they’re ready to leave units, they pull out their smart cards or hit the disconnect button and their sessions close securely, ready to be reopened whenever and wherever employees wish.
3. Will it support remote workers?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has over 18,000 employees stationed in more than 25 countries. Traveling and remote employees often require access to their corporate desktops, applications and data.
“Additionally, our users tend to move locations more frequently than the average corporation user, often working from home or another remote site. It became obvious to IT management that we needed a user virtualization solution that could not only eliminate roaming profiles but also deliver the same personal experience from any accessing device,” said Lee Eilers who is responsible for the virtual desktop environment at CDC.
The CDC turned to AppSense and its user virtualization solution. With AppSense, the user component of a desktop (or the user personality) is decoupled from the operating system and applications, managed independently and applied into a desktop as needed without scripting, group policies or use of roaming profiles.
AppSense applies policies from ActiveDirectory and serves up user profiles, and their associated privileges and data, on demand. CDC employees now get a consistent, secure user experience across desktops and at any location, in-house or remote.
4. Will it help us push beyond the low-hanging fruit?
Many organizations struggle once they hit a certain threshold of virtualization. Many achieve forty, fifty or even sixty percent of servers virtualized and then hit a wall.
Resources for Human Development (RHD), a national non-profit with 4,500 employees, hit the server virtualization wall at sixty percent. RHD realized that in order to go further they would need a new management solution, one that could handle sophisticated multi-tier applications, including payroll and medical billing. RHD didn’t have the confidence required to move forward with its virtualization initiative without real-time metrics.
RHD turned to Xangati and its Infrastructure Performance Management (IPM) solution. Xangati IPM extends the functionality of existing virtualization management suites to continuously track every VM and everything it communicates with, including applications, so that peak activity, instead of averages, can be seen. IPM provides over 150 metrics so that admins can see exactly what a VM is doing at any point in time.
With Xangati in place, RHD pushed ahead and achieved 98 percent virtualization in less than one quarter, largely due to the fact that admins now knew what was going on within their virtual environments.
5. How much money will we save?
The biggest benefit of virtualization, the one that has the business side of organizations salivating, is cost savings.
While Seattle Children’s Hospital turned to the Citrix-Wyse solution to improve workflows, the fact that they would also save money certainly helped move the project through various levels of approval. The hospital estimates that it saves $6 million in hardware, $1.2 million in staff time, and about $1 million a year in energy costs.
Virtualization is considered a much “greener” solution than traditional data center architectures, and it often pays for itself in energy savings alone. Insurance giant Conseco partnered with system integrator Logicalis to virtualize as much of its main data center as possible.
To date, the two have accomplished consolidation ratios of 65 virtual machines to one physical host running VMware vSphere 4. Conseco was able to eliminate 20 to 30 physical servers a month during the height of the implementation.
Conseco estimates that this level of consolidation has reduced the need to purchase the equivalent of about $400,000 in new hardware every year. Meanwhile, savings in energy costs alone amount to about $100,000 a year.
And that’s just the beginning. Many organizations will eliminate desktops. Others will have disaster recovery delivered pretty much as a check-mark feature, while others may eliminate office space since remote workers will be every bit as productive as on-site ones.
For now, though, especially in these troubled economic times, cost savings is still virtualization’s greatest strength.