Business Technology: Respect For Customers Still Counts In The Virtual World
The best things to come out of the drive to virtualization, Bob Evans says, are the value and respect delivered to customers, not just the increased customer options.
In recent years, the words "virtual" and "virtually" have come to mean almost nothing -- or virtually everything. There was a car ad on TV awhile back featuring a phony customer testimonial (I guess we could call it a "virtual" testimonial) in which the guy gushes his endorsement for a certain vehicle by saying, "I virtually live in my car -- to a degree." Now, I don't expect TV ads to be the equivalent of Thomas Aquinas or Shakespeare -- but what in the wide world of fluffery does that sentence mean? Or how often do you hear something like, "I'll virtually guarantee that this idea will work" or "My team's a virtual lock for the Super Bowl." Well, is it a guarantee, or isn't it? Will that team be in the championship, or won't it? What does the word "virtual" mean anymore? All I can tell you is that it's a virtual certainty that I don't know the answer.
But in the business-technology world, virtual servers and virtual machines and virtualization have become incredibly real as more businesses are finding them to be rich sources of flexibility, cost-savings, and simpler administration. Comparable to the aggressive push toward grid computing from IBM, Oracle, and others, virtualization at its core is an attempt to allow companies to make better use out of what they have -- and that's a value proposition high on the priority list of every CIO today.
"Network security has a particularly affinity for myths," he says. "It's hard to change an opinion once it's made, and a lot of IT and security professionals have based their opinions on received wisdom. They've heard about security risks, but they haven't tried it for themselves. Some of these opinions might have been based on reality but are no longer valid, and some is just based on what we've been told."
-- Cybersecurity consultant Justin Peltier, quoted in "The Four Most Dangerous Security Myths," by Matthew Friedman, Networking Pipeline, Oct. 10
Accordingly, technology vendors are coming out with a range of approaches:
BMC Software last week introduced a suite of products designed to help get IT resources synchronized with the appropriate software updates and change-management processes. The ultimate objective is to help customers ensure that the right IT resources are being deployed in the most-beneficial ways at the proper times.
IBM last week rolled out the Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, a blade server that employs virtualization to allow a single blade in the hosted environment to support up to 15 users, whereas blade servers without virtualization technology typically map one blade to one client. Another significant feature in IBM's approach is its inclusion of key partners to deliver this new solution: VMware's virtual-infrastructure software and Citrix's Presentation Server are integrated into the product.
Earlier this month, Altiris introduced a type of management software called Software Virtualization Solution, designed to accelerate PC-based application rollouts by eliminating application conflicts. The company said its intent is "to create virtual applications": "We're looking to decouple the application from the operating system to create virtual applications that can basically run without an installation process."
A new storage-virtualization system from IBM is allowing a bank to consolidate multiple disk storage arrays into a single virtual-storage pool, which was an essential breakthrough for a business with a rapidly growing base of online customers demanding increasingly sophisticated and time-sensitive banking and bill-payment services. Also driving the new approach was the sheer bulk of storage capacity needed to meet the needs of those customers: in the past year, the bank's storage capacity has soared from 2 terabytes to 12 terabytes.
But to me, the most intriguing of all these recent virtualization efforts comes from Microsoft because while its imminent move certainly involves cool new technologies, it also includes an upheaval in pricing strategy and licensing terms, two topics that have become sources of increasing irritation among customers. Microsoft has traditionally licensed its server software based on the number of processors in a hardware server, even if, as often happens within virtual computing environments, the software isn't always running on all of the available processors. Rather than saying, "Too bad, so sad," Microsoft is acknowledging that some customers end up paying license fees for software that's often inactive, and is changing the pricing model so that customers (starting Dec. 1) will have the option of specifying how many virtual processors the Microsoft server software will actually run on, rather than having to pay for all of the actual processors that the hardware happens to have.
Check out this quote from Andy Lees, Microsoft's VP of marketing for its server and tools business, when asked by my colleague Rick Whiting how the company can enforce the licensing plan to ensure that a customer paying for a four-processor license isn't running it on an eight-processor system: "The same way we do today. We trust customers to do it."
All of these virtualization innovations mentioned above are important because they give customers more options and more flexibility in aligning their infrastructure resources to keep up with those customers' customers, a group that is moving faster than ever before, and is more demanding than ever before. So three cheers for all the technology breakthroughs -- the ones that aren't just virtual but also real. But I think that the most valuable of all these innovations will be the ones that, like Microsoft's, are rooted not only in technology but also in the value and respect delivered to customers. Because there's nothing virtual about that.
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