Does Management Get Virtualization? - InformationWeek

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11/18/2008
01:39 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Does Management Get Virtualization?

We're in the middle of a project where we'd proposed to measure the difference in perception of virtualization between business decision makers and technology decision makers. At the same time, we're looking at the same perceptions for advanced Web technology -- stuff like Ajax, the trend of adding collaboration and BI capabilities into apps. I've been surprised by the results.

We're in the middle of a project where we'd proposed to measure the difference in perception of virtualization between business decision makers and technology decision makers. At the same time, we're looking at the same perceptions for advanced Web technology -- stuff like Ajax, the trend of adding collaboration and BI capabilities into apps. I've been surprised by the results.We've done dozens of studies this year, and what we've noticed is that responses typically come 50% to 60% from IT management (technology decision makers, or TDMs), 20% or 25% from IT staff, and 20% or 25% from non-IT management (business decision makers, or BDMs). For these two projects, we'd planned to compare the responses of these two groups to the same set of questions. The idea being to help understand the differences in perceptions between these groups to these relatively new and important technologies.

Interestingly, we got a good sample of BDMs responding on advanced Web capabilities, but we couldn't get a decent response from BDMs for virtualization. We tried a few times and a few ways, but they didn't respond in adequate numbers to yield defensible numbers (we've seen other surveys with similarly low responses for virtualiztion). The BDMs who did respond were mostly from small companies -- probably ones with an IT/technology predisposition, though we didn't check for that.

We've been puzzling on why BDMs don't seem to have much of an opinion on virtualiztion. I think there are two things going on here. First of all, the real business advantage for virtualization has yet to be realized for most companies. So far, the major advantages to its use have been for test and development, and for server consolidation. For test and development, we've seen companies claim good results -- shorter development times and lower cost to their testing infrastructure. However, these weren't revolutionary changes since the fundamental development methodologies didn't change -- developers just didn't have to spend time in the test lab to see if their code modifications worked. For server consolidation, we see almost no one claiming vastly reduced numbers of servers, rather the rate of growth in server counts was substantially slowed -- but in many cases, only for a while.

These initial benefits are very important to IT since the result is significant internal savings vs. life without virtualization. However, while the rest of the business might hear IT raving about how great virtualization is, they really haven't seen a significant change in application performance or availability. The result, I think, is that BDMs are probably supportive of virtualization, but until they see something a little more tangible, they aren't willing to jump on the happy hype train just yet.

The second wave of virtualization is just beginning, which involves virtualizing strategic production applications. Here probably the first benefit that BDMs are likely to see from IT is the end of (or a significant reduction in) application maintenance windows. They also should see a better ability on the part of IT to immediately meet any variable loads the apps might see. Both of these will be important to BDMs, but only if IT has the means (usually dashboards of some sort) to show the improved performance.

Getting those improvements isn't a sure thing, either. The ability to actually monitor an app's performance in a virtualized environment is currently a very hard thing to do, as the tools are immature. We've also heard of failures -- for instance, one of our SOA-focused contributors has talked about one of his clients trying to move its SOA apps to virtualized servers and the result was instability in the app's performance, including a lot of down time.

The third wave will leverage things like cloud computing so that, for instance, an organization like a Harry and David's could leverage the cloud (either internal or external) for resources it needs only three months of the year, rather than keeping all that usually idle capacity in-house.

You can see the succession of importance and relevance to BDMs here. One of the biggest advantages to virtualization is going to be how much complexity and cost the company never saw because virtualization is in place.

So what does your non-IT management think of virtualization and how important is it for you to sell them on it?

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