Overcoming Virtualization's Management Challenges
Where once VARs had to hard-sell users on virtualization, today the technology is almost universally regarded as beneficial. VMware and other pioneers pushed virtualization into the mainstream claiming it addresses the needs of all customers in all markets. Everyone has too many servers, too little space and is using too much power.
The pitch worked. But the broad adoption and familiarity it spawned is threatening to make once-lucrative virtualization a commodity. As solution providers nervously watch the virtualization competition grow and prices drop, industry experts say the market, while increasingly challenging, still has room to thrive for those offering both 'basic' virtualization technology -- server and storage consolidation and server virtualization --and for those willing to carve out specialized niches and leverage virtualization technology in new ways.
"Market needs are shifting but there's still a huge need for the basics to get going. Those basic implementations aren't necessarily differentiated, but that doesn't mean [VARs] aren't deploying them," says Forrester analyst Frank E. Gillett.
"Customers are always struggling with server sprawl, physical space issues, and rising energy costs," says Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer for virtualization software provider Virtual Iron. While it's important for VARs to address those very pressing needs, the number of solution providers delivering server consolidation and other virtualization technologies is increasing by the day, as is the number of customers deploying virtualization solutions.
A recent report from Forrester showed that about half of enterprise IT shops surveyed had taken advantage of x86 server virtualization as of November 2007 and that two-thirds will by next year. By 2009, 45 percent of those enterprises' servers will be virtualized, compared to 24 percent today, says Gillett.
But once a customer's data center is deploying virtualization, what then? Sure, you can increase the percentage of servers virtualized, or upgrade them to newer hardware and software. But it's important now for VARs to dig deeper, before the market becomes extremely commoditized, and either target specific verticals or approach virtualization in new ways. Gillett says that as VARs start to feel the market tapping out, they need to look at the one third to one half of the virtualization market that's left and go beyond the basics.
Virtual Iron and its partners, for instance, target customers in verticals such as healthcare, education and government, says Grandinetti. The company also sees a unique opportunity in the SMB market.
Grandinetti says that while virtualization was at first geared toward enterprise customers with large data centers, the technology is equally applicable to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) who lack financial flexibility.
"When Google or Microsoft or Goldman Sachs need more capacity, they build a new data center. SMBs tend to have more limited resources -- they can't just add new data centers, they have to look for more flexible, scalable alternatives," he says.
Those alternatives include not just virtualization, but also cloud computing and hosted services and infrastructure. All are gaining traction with VARs and their customers, both for their impact on companies' bottom lines and for their ability to reduce energy consumption and cut hardware and physical space costs, says Grandinetti.
Marathon Technologies' everRun software delivers a unique twist on virtualization by eliminating outages or downtime in Microsoft Windows applications. EverRun VM works in both physical and virtual environments by synchronizing two standard Windows servers including the operating system, applications, network interfaces, storage and data, according to Marathon. EverRun creates a single environment that operates like a standalone server and automates fault management so applications on that server don't see the failures if they occur, according to the company.
Steve Keilen, vice president of marketing for Marathon, says eliminating downtime for mission-critical Windows applications lets solution providers offer a greater level of virtualization than was possible just a few months ago. Boosting server virtualization capability makes the software a great fit for VARs whose customers want to go green by further reducing energy use, consolidating into a smaller space and reducing their environmental footprint, he says.
"Now, VARs can take applications that customers traditionally haven't virtualized, like Exchange Server and SQL Server, for instance, and actually virtualize and consolidate these mission-critical functions," says Keilen. Previously, most VARs' customers weren't willing to virtualize applications like Exchange for fear of data loss or downtime, preferring to leave those applications on a dedicated physical server, he adds.
With the introduction of everRun VM, Keilen says VARs can promise their customers that mission-critical e-mail and other server functions will remain available, whereas six to nine months ago, applications like Exchange weren't considered a good candidate for virtualization.
For many customers that deployed a traditional virtualization solution like server consolidation or virtual desktop infrastructure, the initial cost, energy and physical space savings are obvious. However, virtualization has its own set of management challenges including a lack of visibility into the inner workings of virtualized environments and the difficulty of gauging ROI and tracking problems. Virtualization software vendor VKernel and its VARs are helping to overcome these challenges using their Virtual Appliance Suite.
The VKernel Virtual Appliance Suite software is a set of plug-and-play virtual appliances that address specific systems management problems within VMware virtual server environments, says Bill Brown, director of channel sales, VKernel.
VKernel virtual appliances provide visibility into the capacity and resource consumption of each virtual machine a customer is running, and each VKernel virtual appliance is targeted to finding and analyzing specific customer pain points, Brown explains, including cost visibility, capacity and implementing chargeback.
"We are helping people see what's going on inside their virtual deployments. People are spending millions of dollars on virtualization, and they are flying blind," Brown says, without no way to view and analyze performance, efficiency and cost.
Using VKernel's virtual appliances, partners can deliver a clear view to customers into VMware's virtual center, as well as analyze and print out comprehensive views of their virtual deployment, including memory usage, storage capacity, CPU performance and network connection status and performance, Brown says.
Brown says that the virtual appliances are easily installed, and can be up and running within an hour. The appliances allow for up to thirty days of history on a customer's virtual environment deployment, and not only gives partners the ability to show customers analytics of cost savings and ROI, but can also allow them to predict future problems, inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
"By analyzing capacity and performance, a partner could say to a customer, 'In seventeen days, you are going to discover a capacity bottleneck because you are growing your data and increasing capacity in this specific area,' " Brown says.
Brown says VKernel is just one aspect of a large virtualization ecosystem of products and services that contribute to that deployment, including storage, servers, hardware and software from vendors like VMware. He adds that VKernel plans to unveil eight to twelve more virtual appliances over the next twelve to fourteen months, and that partners can expect lucrative opportunities to address customer pain points as each virtual appliance was ready.