How to Avoid the Perils of Virtualization and Cloud Stall

Virtualization and cloud computing offer the promise of cost savings, efficiency and flexibility, but organizations must plan their transitions carefully or risk finding themselves stuck with a bundle of sunk costs and no path forward.

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Tue, April 10, 2012

CIO — Technologies like virtualization and cloud computing promise enormous leaps in efficiency and flexibility, but they can lead organizations into a quagmire if they don't plan properly for the transition, says Bill Hurley, CIO, CTO and executive vice president of Westcon Group. Without proper planning, organizations can stall in the midst of their transitions to virtualized environments or the cloud, finding themselves with a bundle of sunk costs and no path forward.

Westcon Group is a value-added distributor of unified communications, network infrastructure, data center and security solutions that has made its own transition to a 100 percent virtualized environment and now helps its reseller, system integrator and service provider customers guide their own customers through the transition to virtualized environments and the cloud.

The Path to Virtualization

"About three years ago, we realized we needed to consolidate our data centers," Hurley says, explaining that the firm--which has about 2,300 employees in 60 offices in more than 30 countries--had data centers in New York and London at the time. The original idea behind the two data centers was that they would back each other up. But after years of maintenance by different teams, the two data centers had different configurations and architectures. They were no longer capable of the task and the technology was getting long in the tooth to boot.

"We came to a quick realization that we could do better with a single data center with a hot site for backup," Hurley says. "About one-third of our platform needed to be refreshed."

But while Hurley's organization was planning the consolidation, a number of engineers in the IT department had started a skunkworks project of their own. Hurley explains the engineers were maintaining servers that were crashing frequently, and they wanted to sleep at night. So they started an initiative to virtualize some of the older, more crash-prone servers. The skunkworks project led to real improvements, so Westcon decided to formalize it, add some money and turn it into a real project.

"We were just going to replace our data center with a like configuration." Hurley says. "But then we started to realize this virtualization thing could really save us a lot of money. We could virtualize and greatly reduce our footprint. Instead of spending $1 million to refresh one-third of our technology, we could replace the entire platform for roughly that $1 million."

Working with Cisco, it made the transition. It first virtualized its environment as it was in the existing data centers, and then moved the virtual machines (VMs) to its new data center. Hurley says the result was a two-thirds reduction in heating and cooling costs, a reduction in the number of engineers focused on supporting equipment and applying patches and an overall more agile environment. He also notes the move greatly reduced Westcon's outages.

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