Clients are ready to have a discussion about how virtualisation can improve their IT environments, and one solution provider says a successful virtualisation implementation can open the door to further IT engagements for the channel.
At a Microsoft Canada-sponsored media roundtable at the recent IDC Canada Virtualization Forum in Toronto, stakeholders discussed the state of virtualisation technology and the benefits it can bring to IT environments.
President of Toronto-based Microsoft partner LegendCorp, Andy Papadopoulos, said virtualisation has become an increasingly compelling channel play. High-end machines were generally all that could be bought today, he said, and consequently clients were using just 10 per cent of their computing resources. Customers wanted to maximise their assets, and Papadopoulos said virtualisation could help.
"Virtualisation is in its infancy in a lot of environments, but also top of mind in a lot of conversations with our clients," said Papadopoulos. "Virtualisation is trying to leverage the investments you've made. Clients often want to do virtualisation but they don't know where to start."
Microsoft's virtualisation tools really helped the channel, he said. The tools in Microsoft System Center helped him examine which resources a client was using, figure out which were candidates for virtualisation, and develop a plan for the client.
Papadopoulos added that he could also create a test environment using the Microsoft tools to show how a virtualised environment would work and ensure 100 per cent predictability when moving into production.
"At the end of the day all I or any partner is doing is selling a process, and making people comfortable," said Papadopoulos. "A lot of these tools are new and a lot of our clients don't know they exist yet, so it's our job to make them aware."
He said that virtualisation "brought process" to an IT environment, forcing you to think about how you use your environment and use your resources. In a virtualised environment, a new server could be rolled out in 10 minutes and Papadopoulos said a standardised server image would help drive company standards that were a challenge to maintain.
"At the end of the day, for going through this process we end up with a better environment," said Papadopoulos.
Once an IT environment has been successfully virtualised, he added, the door opens for the partner to talk to their clients about things like clustering, high availability and redundancy that were more affordable and practical for the client to consider.
Virtualisation could also be compelling for SMBs. Take the example of a small business, says Papadopoulos, that can't afford three servers and doesn't want the complexity that brings, yet is told they need three servers to run their mail server, domain server and a line of business application. With virtualisation, they could do all that on one box.
"There's a fear factor [with virtualisation], but they don't want to see a lot of servers sitting in the data centre and they worry they'll have to hire more people to manage that," said Papadopoulos. "Virtualisation extends the life of what's there and reduces the complexity."
Director of community evangelism for Microsoft Canada, John Oxley, said Redmond had been developing its set of virtualisation tools. It SystemCenter line of products includes System Center Virtual Manager 2007, and the February 2008 release of Windows Server 2008 will include a beta of Windows Server virtualisation technology; code-named Viridian.
The vendor's approach, said Oxley, was to use the platform investment to manage all IT resources, virtualised or not, in the same way. Reducing complexity was critical, he said, and that started with management.
"You've got to look at management at the core and the way you look at management has to change," said Oxley. "Unlike our competitors we're actually looking to redefine virtualisation, and look at it from an end to end perspective, from data centre to desktop. Culture is the number one enabler and disabler of virtualisation."
Many clients were already seeing the benefits of virtualisation, such as the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres (OACCAC). A health-care agency of the provincial government, the OACCAC provided nursing support and long-term care and facilitates home visits via 14 community care access centres across the province.
OACCAC's director of IT services, Ken Sutcliffe, said they were facing constant pressure to keep internal costs down while improving functionality. In the past when they needed more resources they'd buy another server, but that was becoming impractical.
"As we've grown it's just not cutting it for us anymore, so we've been looking for some solutions to turn servers into a service and not hardware," said Sutcliffe.
The organisation decided to virtualise its server environment,and Sutcliffe said that had resulted in money savings, better uptime and greater resiliency for end-users.