IT management is under increasing pressure to deliver enhanced application service within the context of constrained IT budgets, an increasingly complex technology infrastructure, new and more stringent regulatory compliance requirements, and difficulties in finding and retaining qualified staff. These factors are driving greater interest in new technologies that can improve service delivery while containing costs. Among the most promising new technologies is virtualization.
A flexible IT infrastructure allows organizations to respond quickly to new customer demands, changing market conditions and growth opportunities. Until recently, organizations attempted to achieve flexibility by building larger data centers and filling them with greater amounts of storage, servers and network devices, resulting in significant cost increases for administration, power, space and cooling. In such data centers, it is not uncommon to find servers and storage with excessively low utilization rates, power and cooling consuming 75 percent or more of capacity, and little room for expansion.
As an organization’s IT infrastructure expands, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage and run efficiently. Despite the demand for new applications and services, according to Gartner, more than 65 percent of IT budgets are dedicated to running the business, and deployment time for new services can be several weeks. As infrastructure costs continue to rise, IT is viewed as a poor return on investment.
Challenges and Opportunities
One way to provide a more agile and change-ready IT infrastructure while holding costs in line is to increase the utilization of IT assets through virtualization. Virtualization decouples a resource or request for a service from the underlying physical device providing the service. It allows for greater sharing of IT resources, thereby delivering higher IT resource utilization and more flexibility.
Virtualization is not a new concept. However, recent developments have enabled its application to move beyond mainframe computing to other IT infrastructure layers, including servers, networks, storage and end-user computing. This is resulting in revolutionary changes in the way data centers are designed, application services are delivered and managed, and information systems and data are recovered. According to Gartner, virtualization is one of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2009.1
Furthermore, by enabling data center consolidation and emulating infrastructure in software, virtualization is transforming infrastructure provisioning, enabling IT to go “green” while reducing both cost and business continuity risk.
However, virtualization is not without its challenges. Unlike physical devices, virtual machines are quick and easy to deploy, but the processes and controls used to manage a physical environment may not work well in a virtual one.
Without proper control and management, the proliferation of virtual devices can heighten operational risk and overshadow the benefits. Specific challenges include:
- Safeguarding the integrity and reliability of multiple applications on a single physical host in the event of stability or availability problems
- More complex and difficult requirements related to security, segregation of duties, access control, and change/configuration management
- Potential impact on system performance due to sharing of common CPU, memory and disk storage
- Greater reliance on networks to store, send, retrieve and seek data
- Fewer mature automated management tools to enable “scalability” in system administration, enforce IT policies and improve management control
Our Point of View
Over the next decade, virtualization will become the central architecture for data centers. To ensure the greatest benefits, IT management should prepare a virtualization deployment roadmap as part of a rigorous planning process. Haphazard deployments can result in costly problems and loss of control over the IT environment. Organizations must strike a balance between striving for agility and flexibility and maintaining control. Considerations include:
- Target applications and infrastructure
- Technical, business and legal constraints
- Cultural issues related to resource control
- Tailoring of policies, procedures and controls for the virtual environment, based on proven frameworks (e.g., ITIL)
- Security, configuration and compliance standards
- Optimization strategies based on workload and utilization patterns and constraints
- Automation of virtualization administration and monitoring to enforce policy and react to inappropriate deployments
- Impact on business continuity solutions in terms of accelerating and enabling recovery at a lower cost
In addition to thorough planning, successfully implementing virtualization requires IT management to make its organization more change-ready. Virtualization may drive realignment of the ownership and responsibility for critical functions such as provisioning, operations, application architecture and security. It may also require increased emphasis on IT chargeback processes to help avoid over-provisioning of virtual resources. Such changes inevitably will cross organizational silos, thereby requiring executive involvement in communicating the business’ commitment to virtualization and highlighting its benefits.
How We Help Companies Succeed
We help organizations identify, prioritize and manage risks associated with virtualization. We assess operational processes and controls, guide the selection of appropriate virtualization technologies, and ensure proper planning and management of their implementation. Our team can help you implement an effective virtualization program that will enable you to reduce your IT infrastructure costs while improving business processes, communication, service levels, resiliency, security and management confidence.
Our client, a major finance and insurance company with more than $10 billion in annual revenues and a large, sophisticated IT organization, wanted to better balance the size and speed of changes with the level of controls, including those for the virtualized environments that make up more than 50 percent of its infrastructure.
We provided a detailed assessment of the organization’s IT change, configuration and release management processes, including virtual platform risks and controls. Our team’s recommendations helped the organization increase change throughput by nearly 10 percent, while raising success rates by 0.5 percent and reducing the number of incidents caused by poor changes along with the associated configuration “drift” and costs.