by Laurianne McLaughlin

Virtualization Dirty Jobs: Why You Must Trim Your Application Mix

Jul 17, 20081 min

It's a messy and complicated job, but if you don't optimize your applications portfolio, your virtualization efforts will hit a wall.

Virtualization would be easier to explain if it was just about consolidating hardware. Thankfully for your business, it’s not. Virtualization’s ultimate benefit is not consolidation but IT agility and speed. To get there, you’ll need to do some painful things. HP’s John Bennett recently pointed out to me one truth that many IT leaders miss in the current marketplace noise of the VMware v. Microsoft fight: If you don’t pay attention to your applications portfolio, your virtualization effort will hit a wall.

It’s not enough to trim down your number of physical servers in the data center, says Bennett, HP’s worldwide director, Data Transformation Solutions. You must trim the fat from your application mix as well.

Oh, I know, the danger lights are flashing for many of you. Touch the line of business applications? That’s a dangerous and complex project, one that many IT leaders will turn away from for political reasons. Simply consolidating the current apps on fewer physical servers seems much safer.

Make this choice and you’re cheating yourself and the business, Bennett says.

“Consider what you could do if you did an application modernization project before you did your virtualization project,” Bennett says. “That’s when you get to multiply results instead of just adding them.”

“It’s very tough of course,” Bennett adds. Indeed. Plenty of IT leaders understand the need to get rid of old applications that require dedicated staff expertise, and often, specialized boxes with low utilization rates.

But application portfolio trimming gets messy and complicated fast. Maybe that’s one reason why only a handful of the CIOs I’ve talked to about virtualization in the past year actually did application portfolio trimming as part of a virtualization effort. (The other reason: many of you got an adrenaline rush from the consolidation benefits of the first wave of virtualization, and completed that wave quickly to show a win to the business. With that win under your belt, maybe you now have more political capital to tackle those ugly old applications.)

Forward-looking CIOs know that the application mix must be refined for efficiency’s sake. Who wants to be balancing workloads and carrying costs for applications that are barely used or should have been put out to pasture years ago?

Sesame Workshop’s VP of information services Noah Broadwater recently shared with how he’s starting to rid his company of such apps in his virtualization efforts.

Alcatel-Lucent’s CIO, Elizabeth Hackenson, made application portfolio trimming a key part of her massive makeover of that company’s data centers. Consolidating applications is harder than closing server rooms, she told us, but absolutely necessary to meet the business goals for the data center revamp. Hackenson and her team are still in the process of consolidating the company’s approximately 1,300 applications; she’d like to trim the portfolio to 500 to 600 applications. (See’s case study, “Extreme Data Center Makeover” for more details on the Alcatel-Lucent project.)

“Not many IT leaders are through this knothole,” Bennett says of application portfolio trimming. “But if you want to implement a next-generation data center, this is something you’re going to have to go through.”

Sure, HP has skin in the game here, since it makes money by helping IT groups (including Alcatel-Lucent’s) do this kind of work via its services experts.

But HP, as my colleague Kevin Fogarty has noted, enjoys a top to bottom and realistic view of virtualization from its customers right now. After all, it’s selling those customers virtualization pieces from blade servers to management tools to consultants who optimize virtualization projects. HP is a well-informed and profitable Switzerland in the VMware, Citrix and Microsoft virtualization wars today.

I think Bennett’s right. You will hit a wall if you construct a beautiful virtualized data center but ignore your ugly set of applications.

This is one of those second-wave virtualization issues that more of you will have to grapple with in the coming months. So how about it? Are you ready? Let’s hear from some of you regarding why you are or aren’t re-examining your application set, and any lessons you can share on how to do it right.