Server Virtualization: 6 Management Myths

Hint: You don't really know what hypervisors you're running, or what it all costs. Consider some expert advice on 6 common management mistakes.

During the past three to five years, when most companies began rolling out virtual servers in earnest as replacements for physical servers, acceptance has grown so quickly among both end users and IT staffs that more than half of all companies now deploy new applications on virtual servers by preference, rather than physical ones, according to a December study from IDC.

By 2014, 70 percent of all server workloads will run on virtual machines, IDC found.

Unlike the early days of virtualization, when business unit managers often questioned IT decisions that removed the physical server on which their key applications ran, virtualization raises few questions even among frontline business managers, some IT leaders say.

"I don't know there was a lot we had to keep explaining," says Brad Thompson, director of infrastructure engineering at Target, who is leading a three-year effort to reduce seven physical servers in each of the company's 1,755 stores to two, each running virtual machines on Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor.

"Our end user community doesn't really want to spend a lot of time worrying about infrastructure except to keep track of what it costs," Thompson says. "They ask if we've piloted it, have we proved it. We show them not only did we do that, we did it in 10 of our highest-volume stores over the holidays. They accept that."

Virtualization's cost savings are so dramatic and the technology is so widespread it's hard for end users to justify concern about having a physical server they can touch, even if they'd prefer to have one, according to Gary Chen, research manager for IDC's Enterprise Virtualization Software business.

Still, some major misconceptions about server virtualization remain, even among companies with large virtual-server installations.

1. You don't know what kind of virtual servers you actually have.

An upcoming IDC survey of CIOs and senior-level IT managers shows clearly that, among companies that have virtualized large chunks of their infrastructures and are using the VMs for critical applications, few are using hypervisors from more than one vendor, Chen says.

"About 70 percent of people said they're sticking with a single hypervisor for the time being," Chen says. "About 30 percent said they're open to using two — not 30 percent that are doing it, 30 percent are open to it. About half of those, 15 percent of the total, said they'll probably have more than one hypervisor in a year or two."

But many of those survey respondents are either kidding themselves or don't spend enough time in their own data centers, according to Dan Olds, principal of Gabriel Consulting Group, who has been doing annual surveys of Windows and Unix-server users for more than five years.

"The surveys I do are more with data-center people than CIO or upper-IT management, so their view of what is going on with their servers is a little more hands-on than someone who may have cut the enterprise deal with VMware," he says.

Olds' surveys show VMware is the leading hypervisor, just as IDC's do, but the single-vs.-multiple hypervisor percentages are mirror images. "Consistently, across all sizes of companies and industries, about 71 percent of companies say they have more than one type of virtual server," Olds says. "Citrix and Hyper-V are inexpensive and easy to get, so there's a lot of tire-kicking going on, but it's also a grass-roots thing like Linux was, where things are being used in the data center beyond what the CIOs may even really know about."

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