Alleviating Concerns

By Brian P. Watson Print this article Print

Big companies, once hesitant about virtualization, are now embracing the technology. In some cases, though, they're still waiting to see the benefit. It won't be long.

Alleviating Concerns

There's no question virtualization has helped companies cut power and cooling costs in their data centers, slash hardware expenditures and get applications up and running more quickly. Some obstacles that stifled early adoption persist today, but others have gone away.

An August 2007 study by Rackspace, a San Antonio Web hosting firm, identified two major obstacles to virtualization's adoption: lack of user experience and immature technology. In many ways, the two issues are interconnected. The lack of experience has roots in an old ethos among IT professionals: Put one application on a single physical server box. That belief caused many companies to shy away, says George Scangas, manager of IT architecture at Welch's, the Concord, Mass.-based juice and condiment maker.

As a result, few IT staffers got experience building and managing virtual environments. What's more, early on, some leading software vendors worried about virtualization's reliability, as well as how the technology would affect licensing and support, according to Gartner analyst John Enck. Many of those vendors actually wrote clauses into their licensing agreements prohibiting customers from deploying their applications in virtual environments, Enck says.

Because of those factors, companies focused their virtualization efforts around second-tier applications —not mission-critical ones. The new technology thrived in testing and development, but production remained out of reach.

Fast forward to today.

Software vendors no longer cringe at the prospect of virtualization. VMware's Raghuram doesn't think vendors were so much spooked by the idea of the technology as by the challenges of properly configuring virtual servers.

More software providers have come to virtualization vendors looking for certification and testing protocols to ensure their products work with virtual machines, according to Raghuram. "As a technology company, you don't want to be seen as a technology laggard," he says.

Customers, in turn, have shown an increased willingness to include crucial programs in their virtualization efforts: More than 70% of respondents to Rackspace's August survey said they'd deploy mission-critical applications in virtual environments.

Some IT executives haven't had a choice. When Scangas joined Welch's in late 2002, the company had already dived in. Welch's was using VMware's GSX server, a hosted virtualization software tool, but has since upgraded to ESX server, which introduced a hypervisor that runs on top of the server and controls the operating system.

Initially, Welch's looked to reduce the number of its aging Dell servers, which were underused and took up space in the data center. "If we didn't have virtualization, we'd definitively be in a new data center," Scangas says. A new server facility, Scangas estimates, would have cost in the high six figures.

Scangas didn't rush into running mission-critical applications on VMware. Quickly, though, he saw the cost savings from less cabling, power and rack space. Besides avoiding costs of a new data center, Welch's saved at least $300,000 in hardware costs, he says. And that doesn't include the savings from lower power and cooling usage. (Scangas hasn't yet run those numbers.)

The company now runs about 100 virtual machines, which Scangas expects to increase to 110 or 120 in the next three months as he deploys new applications. He and his team have about 12 virtual machines on each physical box in production.

And as VMware's technology matured with the ESX Server release, Scangas has become more willing to put business-critical programs on VMware.

What's more, Scangas and his team are looking to extend the technology to meet Welch's disaster recovery needs and boost the hardware savings by eliminating the need for redundant hardware in an off-site facility. "There's so much potential," he says. Next Page: Inconclusive Results

This article was originally published on 2007-10-02
Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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