Virtualization is a top priority for SMBs, yet problems like budget overruns are causing heartache. Here's advice on how to avoid common pitfalls.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

February 15, 2013

5 Min Read

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8 Cloud Tools For Road Warriors

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Virtualization ranks among the top IT priorities for the majority of small and midsize businesses (SMBs), according to new Techaisle data, but those projects often come with some pain.

Seventy-two percent of SMBs included in the research listed virtualization as relevant to their business, second only to backup and disaster recovery in appeal. Yet more than half (56%) said virtualization is one of the toughest technologies for them to understand, ranking ahead of business intelligence, big data, data centers and mobility in complexity.

The good news: 60% of SMBs declared their virtualization projects a success, and just 2% labeled them a complete failure. But the other 38% that said their virtualization deployments were a partial success. That begs a question: How many times have you earned a promotion or raise by marching into the boss's office bragging about your partial successes? "I sort of did an OK job!" doesn't often put you on the fast track to the C suite.

[ Does your "internal cloud" need a helping hand? Read 3 Ways The Cloud Can Complement Virtualization. ]

Virtualization projects, of both desktops and servers, tend to fail for several common reasons, Techaisle analyst Anurag Agrawal told InformationWeek in an email interview. "Inadequate planning, ill-defined objectives … and inexperienced staffing" are among the problems, he said. Cost overruns are another headache.

Fortunately, the quagmires can be avoided with some forward thinking. Watch out for the following three problem areas and you'll be on your way to a successful project.

1. Budget Overruns.

Rarely do over-budget projects get the "100% success" stamp of approval. SMBs are particularly susceptible here: "Managing budgets is hard to do for an SMB as priorities constantly shift from capital investment to operating expenditures," Agrawal said. Unexpected costs ranked as the top post-implementation problem for SMBs.

Virtualization can deliver real bottom-line returns on investment, but don't let anyone tell you virtualization is cheap. Take time to fully understand the up-front and ongoing costs before launching a project, and don't go in with a wishy-washy budget.

"The major challenge was the cost, because the initial hardware investment was huge," said the VP of IT at one midsize company included in the Techaisle survey. "Getting rid of the system and moving to the cloud and installing virtual servers required purchasing physical storage and upgrading the system."

2. Lack Of Virtualization Experience.

There's some technical complexity involved with virtualization. If you don't have the in-house know-how, figure out whom you can enlist to help. The two likely places to look: outside IT providers, sometimes known as channel partners, and the virtualization vendors themselves. Agrawal pointed out that each has -- or should have -- a significant stake in your success. If it doesn't, you need a new partner or vendor. "It is in the interest of the partner and the virtualization vendor to ensure that project becomes successful," Agrawal said. "This is because for a segment that is growing fast, positive referrals and experiences are always helpful."

3. Lack Of Planning.

IT projects that don't have clear goals are begging to fail. Virtualization is no exception. Planning -- a pleasure for some, a pain for others -- is key, not just in meeting the ultimate goals but also in minimizing the headaches during deployment.

A clear-cut example: Compatibility issues with current hardware and applications ranked as the top issue SMBs encounter during virtualization implementations; one in five respondents said that was a problem. Therefore it's important to perform compatibility checks prior to beginning a virtualization project, Agrawal said.

In the end, though, Agrawal and others noted that the potential upside of virtualization is often worth the associated risks, especially if you're mindful of the pitfalls. Said one IT exec in the Techaisle research: "It certainly has helped us to avail richer network services without increasing our capital investment and has increased our operational efficiency. Moreover, computing and networking are much simplified now."

Also of note in the Techaisle research: It's common for SMBs to use a mix of virtualization vendors rather than standardize on a single platform. For example, one in three SMBs that use VMware for server virtualization use a different vendor -- usually Citrix or Microsoft -- for client virtualization. One IT exec included in Techaisle's survey said his midmarket firm uses VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and Ericom for emulation.

One reason for the mixed-vendor approach is that many SMBs deploy virtualization in phases, perhaps starting with a server consolidation and later rolling out in other areas, said Agrawal. Another reason, perhaps related, is budget. "Microsoft is the culprit here, [because it] allows its partners to give away its virtualization solutions that are built into its Windows Server," Agrawal said. "Once SMBs start to realize the benefits of the solution they add other areas from other vendors."

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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