Time-Shares, Magic, And A Real World Tale

I just got back from a short-term consulting gig in the mid-Atlantic region. The local IT team had <em>heard</em> of virtualization. Maybe.

Joe Hernick, IT Director

February 6, 2008

3 Min Read

I just got back from a short-term consulting gig in the mid-Atlantic region. The local IT team had heard of virtualization. Maybe.I was part of a small team running an infrastructure/operations assessment for a nonprofit client. For matters of confidentiality, let's say I was assessing a private junior college in an area where horse and buggy are still used by a good slice of the population. (Not 100% accurate, but that's a close match for the client. Don't try to pin this post on anyone you know!) I'm spoiled. Perhaps I can be a bit myopic in my world view thanks to my day-to day responsibilities and interactions with vendors, enterprise users, and other propeller-heads.

I write about virtualization. Anyone taking the effort to read this post most likely has working knowledge of VMware, some flavor of Xen, or desktop virt. I just spent two days interviewing IT pros with zero hands-on experience with any form of virtualization. This was a ~5 person crew running a Windows and Cisco shop.

We're not talking about an old-school ARCNET shop, folks.

They have a basic SAN. Their infrastructure serves 1,000+ users in an academic setting. As you'd expect, they are underfunded and overworked. Compared with most for-profit shops, they also are under-trained and behind the curve. Don't scoff; the crew had a sterling work ethic, astounding organization loyalty, and a healthy attitude toward constructive criticism.

Can you say the same thing about all your fully-certified, high wage staff?

What they lacked, through no fault of their own, was a strong strategic direction for IT. They also lacked tactical flexibility, formal testing platforms, key resource redundancy, or a workable BCP solution for their fairly large, distributed campus.

Most of their implementations have been vendor one-offs, resulting in racks of 1x1 servers humming along at single-digit CPU utilization. If a given department needed a new app, they played it safe and went with vendor specs. New app equaled one or more new servers. Multiplied by many years with no sunsetting plan.

Sound familiar to anyone out there?

This IT organization was self-critical enough to ask for outside help. The organization's administrative team recognized it was facing (or had surpassed) a crisis point; the sheer volume of gear and vendor solutions under management were crushing their resources and collective spirit. Terrifying budget forecasts based on a 1x1 replacement of existing gear were unpalatable, to say the least; a number of vendor solutions were coming up to a forced version (and corresponding hardware) refresh.

On top of dozens of preliminary findings suggesting policy changes and operation improvements, we presented virtualization as one piece of "re-thinking" the shop. Frankly, we included VMing as a common sense bullet item.

A single, tentative hand went up. From a member of the IT team. Asking for clarification. A quick poll of the table revealed that none of the nontechies had ever heard of the term, and none of the IT team had ever been hands-on.

Needless to say, the words magic box, Florida time-share, and bellhop thingy were all used after our team baffled the audience by saying "hypervisor" and "guested instance" in one sentence.

Lesson learned. While VMing might be all the buzz, we're still a growing, in-the-know community. Many, many intelligent, educated, hard-working folks have no idea what the heck we talk about.

I'll try to remember that the next time someone at a party asks what I do for a living. I think I'll start with 'magic box' and go from there.I just got back from a short-term consulting gig in the mid-Atlantic region. The local IT team had heard of virtualization. Maybe.

About the Author(s)

Joe Hernick

IT Director

Joe Hernick is in his seventh year as director of academic technology at Suffield Academy, where he teaches, sits on the Academic Committee, provides faculty training and is a general proponent of information literacy. He was formerly the director of IT and computer studies chair at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT, and spent 10 years in the insurance industry as a director and program manager at CIGNA.

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