Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Explore the Myths and Means of Scaling Out Virtualization Via Automation Across Data Centers

Transcript of a podcast discussion on how automation and best practices allows for far greater degrees of virtualization and efficiency across enterprise data centers.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect.

Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on the improved and increased use of virtualization in data centers. We'll delve into how automation and policy-driven processes and best practices are offering a slew of opportunities for optimizing virtualization. Server, storage, and network virtualization use are all rapidly moving from points of progress into more holistic levels of adoption.

The goals are data center transformation, performance and workload agility, and cost and energy efficiency. But the trap of unchecked virtualization complexity can have a stifling effect on the advantageous spread of virtualization. Indeed, many enterprises may think they have already exhausted their virtualization paybacks, when in fact, they have only scratched the surface of the potential long-term benefits.

In some cases, levels of virtualization are stalling at 30 percent adoption, yet other data centers are leveraging automation and best practices and moving to 70 percent and even 80 percent adoption rates. By taking such a strategic outlook on virtualization, we'll see how automation sets up companies to better exploit cloud computing and IT transformation benefits at the pace of their choosing, not based on artificial limits imposed by dated or manual management practices.

Here now to discuss how automation can help you achieve strategic levels of virtualization adoption are our guests, Erik Frieberg, Vice President of Solutions Marketing at HP Software. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Erik.

Erik Frieberg: Great. Good to be here.

Gardner: And, we're here with Erik Vogel, Practice Principal and America's Lead for Cloud Resources at HP. Welcome, Erik Vogel.

Erik Vogel: Well, thank you.

Gardner: Let's start the discussion with you Erik Frieberg. Tell me, why there is a misconception about acceptable adoption levels of virtualization out there?

Frieberg: When I talk to people about automation, they consistently talk about what I call "element automation." Provisioning a server, a database, or a network device is a good first step, and we see gaining market adoption of automating these physical things. What we're also seeing is the idea of moving beyond the individual element automation to full process automation.

IT is in the process of serving the business, and the business is asking for whole application service provisioning. So it's not just these individual elements, but tying them all together along with middleware, databases, objects and doing this whole stack provisioning.

When you look at the adoption, you have to look at where people are going, as far as the individual elements, versus the ultimate goal of automating the provisioning and rolling out a complete business service or application.

Gardner: Is there something in general that folks don't appreciate around this level of acceptable use of virtualization, or is there a need for education?

Perceptible timing

Frieberg: It comes down to what I call the difference in perceptible timing. Often, when businesses are asking for new applications or services, the response is three, four, or five weeks to roll something out. This is because you're automating individual pieces but it's still left to IT to glue all the individual element automation together to deliver that business service.

As companies expand their use of automation to automate the full services, they're able to reduce that time from months down to days or weeks. This is what some people are starting to call cloud provisioning or self-service business application provisioning. This is really the ultimate goal -- provisioning these full applications and services versus what is often IT’s goal -- automating the building blocks of a full business service.

Gardner: I see. So we're really moving from a tactical approach to a strategic approach?

Frieberg: Exactly.

Gardner: What about HP? Is there something about the way that you have either used virtualization yourselves or have worked with a variety of customers that leads you to believe that there is a lot more uptake? Are we really only in the first inning or two of virtualization from HP's perspective?

Frieberg: We're maybe in the second inning, but we're certainly early in the life cycle. We're seeing companies moving beyond the traditional automation, and their first goal, which is often around freeing up labor for common tasks.

Companies will look at things like how do they baseline what they have, how they patch and provision new services today, moving on to what is called deployment automation, and the ability to move applications from the development environment into the production environment.

They're asking how do I establish and enforce compliance policies across my organization.



You're starting to see the movement beyond those initial goals of eliminating people to ensuring compliance. They're asking how do I establish and enforce compliance policies across my organization, and beyond that, really capturing or using best practices within the organization.

So we're maturing and moving to further "innings" by automating the process more and also getting further benefits around compliance and best practices for use through our automation efforts.

Gardner: When you can move in that direction, at that level, you start to really move into what we call data center transformation, rather than spot server improvements or rack-by-rack improvements.

Frieberg: Exactly. This is where you're starting to see what some people call the "lights out" data center. It has the same amount or even less physical infrastructure using less power, but you see the absence of people. These large data centers just have very few people working in them, but at the same time, are delivering applications and services to people at a highly increased rate rather than as traditionally provided by IT.

Gardner: Erik Vogel, are there other misconceptions that you’ve perceived in the marketplace in terms of where virtualization adoption can go?

Biggest misconception

Vogel: Probably the biggest misconception that I see with clients is the assumption that they're fully virtualized, when they're probably only 30 or 40 percent virtualized. They've gone out and done the virtualization of IT, for example, and they haven't even started to look at Tier 1 applications.

The misconception is that we can't virtualize Tier 1 apps. In reality, we see clients doing it every day. The broadest misconception is what virtualization can do and how far it can get you. Thirty percent is the low-end threshold today. We're seeing clients who are 75-80 percent virtualized in Tier 1 applications.

Gardner: Erik Frieberg, back to you. Perhaps there is a laundry list of misconceptions that we can go through and then discount them. If we're going to go from that 30 percent into that strategic level, what are some specific things that are holding people back?

Frieberg: When I talk to customers about their use of virtualization, you're right. They virtualize the easy stuff.

The three misconceptions I see a lot are, one, automation and virtualization are just about reducing head count. The second is that automation doesn't have as much impact on compliance. The third is if automation is really at the element level, they just don't understand how they would do this for these Tier 1 workloads.

Gardner: Let's now get into what we mean by automation. How do you go about automating in such a way that you don't fall into these traps and you can enjoy the things that you've been describing in terms of better compliance, better process, and repeatability?

Provisioning, managing, and moving in this new agile development environment and this environment of hybrid IT . . . is really moving beyond what a lot of people can manage.



Frieberg: What we're seeing in companies is that they're realizing that their business applications and services are becoming too complex for humans to manage quickly and reliably.

The demands of provisioning, managing, and moving in this new agile development environment and this environment of hybrid IT, where you're consuming more business services, is really moving beyond what a lot of people can manage. The idea is that they are looking at automation to make their life easier, to operate IT in a compliant way, and also deliver on the overall business goals of a more agile IT.

Companies are almost going through three phases of maturity when they do this. The first aspect is that a lot of automation revolves around "run book automation" (RBA), which is this physical book that has all these scripts and processes that IT is supposed to look at.

But, what you find is that their processes are not very standardized. They might have five different ways of configuring your device, resetting the server, and checking why an application isn’t working.

So, as we look at maturity, you’ve got to standardize on a set of ways. You have to do things consistently. When you standardize methods, you then find out you're able to do the second level of maturity, which is consolidate. We don’t need to provision a PC 16 different ways. We actually can do it one way with three variations. When you do that, you now move up the ability to automate that process. Then, you use that individual process automation or element automation in the larger process, and tie it all together.

That’s how we see companies or organizations moving up this maturity curve within automation.

Gardner: I was intrigued by that RBA example you gave. There are occasions where folks think they're automated, but are not. Is there a way to have a litmus test as to whether automation is where you need to go, not actually where you’ve been?

The easy aspects

Frieberg: Automation is similar to the statistics you gave in virtualization, where people are exploring automation and they're automating the easy aspects, but they're hitting roadblocks in understanding how they can drive automation further in their organization.

Something I have used as a litmus test is that run book. How thick is it now and how thick was it a month ago or a year ago, when you started automation? How have you consolidated it through your automation processes?

We see companies not just trying to standardize, consolidate, or make tough choices that will enable them to push the automation further. A lot of it is just a hard-held belief of what can be automated in IT versus what can't. It's very analogous to them approaching virtualization -- I can do these types of workloads, but not these others. A lot of these beliefs are held in old facts and not based on what the technology or new software solutions could do today.

Gardner: So, perhaps an indication of where they are actually doing automation is is that run book is getting smaller?

Frieberg: Exactly. The other thing I look at, as companies start to roll out applications, is not just the automation, but the consistency. You read different facts within the industry. Fifty percent of the time, when you make a change into your environment, you cause an unforeseen downstream effect. You change something, but something else breaks further down.

They look at that initial upfront cost and see that the investment is probably higher than what they were anticipating. I think in a lot of cases that is holding our clients back from really achieving these higher levels of virtualization.



When you automate processes, we tend to see that drop dramatically. Some estimates have put the unforeseen impact as low as five percent. So, you can also measure your unforeseen downstream effects and ask, "Should I automate these processes that seem to be tedious, time-consuming, and non-compliant for people to do, and can I automate them to eliminate these downstream effects, which I am trying to not have occur in my organization?"

Gardner: Erik Vogel, when these folks recognize that they need to be more aggressive with automation in order to do virtualization better, enjoy their cost performance improvements, and ultimately get towards their data center transformation, what is it that they need to be thinking of? Are performance and efficiency the goals? How do we move toward this higher level of virtualization?

Vogel: One of the challenges that our clients face is how to build the business case for moving from 30 percent to 60 or 70 percent virtualized. This is an ongoing debate within a number of clients today, because they look at that initial upfront cost and see that the investment is probably higher than what they were anticipating. I think in a lot of cases that is holding our clients back from really achieving these higher levels of virtualization.

In order to really make that jump, the business case has to be made beyond just reduction in headcount or less work effort. We see clients having to look at things like improving availability, being able to do migrations, streamlined backup capabilities, and improved fault-tolerance. When you start looking across the broader picture of the benefits, it becomes easier to make a business case to start moving to a higher percentage of virtualization.

One of the impediments, unfortunately, is that there is kind of an economic hold. The way we're creating these business cases today doesn't show the true value and benefit of enhanced virtualization automation. We need to rethink the way we put these business cases together to really incorporate a lot of the bigger benefits that we're seeing with clients who have moved to a higher percentage of virtualization.

Gardner: In order to attain that business benefit to make the investment a clear winner and demonstrate the return what is it that needs to happen? Is this a best-of-breed equation, where we need to pull together the right parts? Is it the people equation about the operations, or all of the above? And how does HP approach that stew of different elements within this?

All of the above

Vogel: It's really all of the above. One of the things we saw early on with virtualization is that just moving to a virtual environment does not necessarily reduce a lot of the maintenance and management that we have, because we haven’t really done anything to reduce the number of OS instances that have to be managed.

If we're just looking at virtualizing and just moving from physical to virtual devices, we may be reducing our asset footprint and gaining the benefits of just managing fewer physical assets. From a logical standpoint, we still have the same number of servers and the same number of OS instances. So, we still have the same amount of complexity in managing the environment.

The benefits are relatively constrained, if we look at it from just a physical footprint reduction. In some cases, it might be significant if a client is running out of data-center space, power, or cooling capacity within the data center. Then, virtualization makes a lot of sense because of the reduction in asset footprint.

But, when we start looking at coupling virtualization with improved process and improved governance, thereby reducing the number of OS instances, application rationalization, and those kinds of broader process type issues, then we start to see the big benefits come into play.

Now, we're not talking just about reducing the asset footprint. We're also talking about reducing the number of OS instances. Hence, the management complexity of that environment will decrease. In reality, the big benefits are on the logical side and not so much on the physical side.

It becomes more than just talking about the hardware or the virtualization, but rather a broader question of how IT operates and procures services.



Gardner: It sounds like we're moving beyond that tactical benefit of virtualization, but thinking more about an operational fabric through which to support a variety of workloads -- and that's quite a leap.

Vogel: Absolutely. In fact, when we start talking about moving to a cloud-type environment, specifically within public cloud and private cloud, we're looking at having to do that process work and governance work. It becomes more than just talking about the hardware or the virtualization, but rather a broader question of how IT operates and procures services. We have to start changing the way we are thinking when we're going to stand up a number of virtual images.

When we start moving to a cloud environment, we talk about how we share a resource pool. Virtualization is obviously key and an underlying technology to enable that sharing of a virtual resource pool.

But it becomes very important to start talking about how we govern that, how we control who has access, how we can provision, what gets provisioned and when. And then, how do we de-provision, when we're done with a particular environment; and how do we enable that environment to scale up and scale down, based on the demands of the workloads that are being run on that environment.

So, it's a much bigger problem and a more complicated problem as we start going to higher levels of virtualization and automation and create environments that start to look like a private cloud infrastructure.

Gardner: And yet, it's at that higher level of adoption that the really big paybacks kick in. Are there some misconceptions or some education issues that are perhaps holding companies back from moving toward that larger adoption, which will get them, in fact, those larger economic productivity and transformative benefits?

Lifecycle view

Vogel: The biggest challenge where education needs to occur is that we need to be looking at IT through a lifecycle view. A lot of times we get tied up just looking at an initial investment or what the upfront cost would be to deploy one of these environments. We're not truly looking at the cost to provide that service over a three-, four- or five-year period, because if we start to look carefully at what that lifecycle cost is, we can see that these shared environments, these virtualized environments with automation, are a fraction of the cost of a dedicated environment.

Now, there will need to be an upfront investment. That, I think, is causing a lot of concern for our clients because they look at it only in the short-term. If we look at it over a life-cycle approach and we educate clients to start seeing the cost to provide that service, that's when we start to see that it's easy to make a business case for moving to one of these environments.

It's a change in the way a lot of our clients think about developing business cases. It's a new model and a new way of looking at it, but it's something that's occurring across the industry today, and will continue to occur.

Gardner: I'm curious about the relationship that you’re finding, as the adoption levels increase from net 30 percent to 60 or 70 percent. Are the benefits coming in on a linear basis as a fairly constant improvement? Or is there some sort of a hockey-stick effect, whereby there is an accelerating level of business benefits as the adoption increases?

Vogel: It really depends on the client situation, the type of applications, and their specific environment. Generally, we're still seeing increasing returns in almost a linear fashion, as we move into 60-70 percent virtualized.

Right now, we're looking at that 60-70 percent as the rule of thumb, where we're still seeing good returns for the investment.



As we move beyond that, it is client-specific and client-independent. There are a lot of variables and a lot of factors in play, such as the type of applications that are running on it and the type of workloads and demands that are being placed on that environment. Depending on the clients, they can still see benefits when they're 80-85 percent virtualized. Other clients will hit that economic threshold in the 60-65 percent virtualized range.

We do know that we're continuing to see benefits beyond that 30 percent, beyond the easy stuff, as they move into Tier 1 applications. Right now, we're looking at that 60-70 percent as the rule of thumb, where we're still seeing good returns for the investment. As applications continue to modernize and are better able to use virtual technologies, we'll see that threshold continue to increase into the 80-85 percent range.

Gardner: How about the type of payoff that might come as companies move into different computing models? If you have your sights set on cloud computing, private cloud or hybrid cloud at some point, will you get a benefit or dividends from whatever strategic virtualization, governance and policy, and automation practices you may inherit now?

Vogel: I don’t think anybody will question that there are continued significant benefits, as we start looking at different cloud computing models. If we look at what public cloud providers today are charging for infrastructure, versus what it costs a client today to stand up an equivalent server in their environment, the economics are very, very compelling to move to a cloud-type of model.

Now, with that said, we've also seen instances where costs have actually increased as a result of cloud implementation, and that's generally because the governance that was required was not in place. If you move to a virtual environment that's highly automated and you make it very easy for a user to provision in a cloud-type model and you don’t have correct governance in place, we have actually seen virtual server sprawl occur.

Everything pops up

All of a sudden, everybody starts provisioning environments, because it's so easy and everything is in this cloud environment begins to pop up, which results in increased software licensing costs. Plus, we still need to manage those environments.

Without the proper governance in place, we can actually see cost increase, but when we have the right governance and processes in place for this cloud environment, we've seen very compelling economics, and it's probably the most compelling change in IT from an economic perspective within the last 10 years.

Gardner: So, there is a relationship between governance and automation. You really wouldn’t advise having them separate or even consecutive? They really need to go hand in hand?

Vogel: Absolutely. We've found in many, many client instances, where they've just gone out, procured hardware, and dropped it on the floor, that they did not realize the benefits they had expected from that cloud-type hardware. In order to function as a cloud, it needs to be managed as a cloud environment. That, as a prerequisite, requires strong governance, strong process, security controls, etc. So, you have to look at them together, if you're really going to operationalize a cloud environment, and by that I mean really be able to achieve those business benefits.

Gardner: Erik Frieberg, tying this back to data-center transformation, is there a relationship now that's needed between the architectural level and the virtualization level, and have they so far been distinct?

I guess I'm asking you the typical cultural question. Are the people who are in charge of virtualization and the people who are in charge of data center transformation the same people talking the same language? What do they need to do to make this more seamless?

When you talk about an entire service and all the elements that make up that service, you're now talking about a whole host of people.



Frieberg: I’ll echo something Erik said. We hear clients talk about how it's not about virtualizing the server, but it's about virtualizing the service. This is where we look at virtualizing a single server and putting it into production by cloning it is relatively straightforwardly. But, when you talk about an entire service and all the elements that make up that service, you're now talking about a whole host of people.

You get server people involved around provisioning. You’ve got network people. You’ve got storage people. Now, you're just talking about the infrastructure level. If you want to put app servers or database servers on top of this, you have those constituents involved, DBAs and other people. If you start to put production-level applications on there, you get application specialists.

You're now talking about almost a dozen people involved in what it takes to put a service in production, and if you're virtualizing that service, you have admins and others involved. So, you really have this environment of all these people who now have to work together.

A lot of automation is by automating specific tasks. But, if you want to automate and virtualize this entire service, you’ve got to get 12 people to get together to look at the standard way to roll out that environment, and how to do it in today’s governed, compliant infrastructure.

The coordination required, to use a term used earlier, isn’t just linear. It sometimes becomes exponential. So, there are challenges, but the rewards are also exponential. This is why it takes weeks to put these into production. It isn’t the individual pieces. You're getting all these people working together and coordinated. This is extremely difficult and this is what companies find challenging.

Gardner: Erik Vogel, it sounds as if this allows for a maturity benefit, or a sense of maturity around these virtualization benefits. This isn’t a one-off. This is a repeatable, almost a core, competency. Is that how you are seeing this develop now? A company should recognize that you need to do virtualization strategically, but you need to bake it in. It's something that's not going to go away?

Capability standpoint

Vogel: That's absolutely correct. I always tend to shy away from saying maturity. Instead, I like to look at it from a capability standpoint. When we look at just maturity, we see organizations that are very mature today, but yet not capable of really embracing and leveraging virtualization as a strategic tool for IT.

So, we've developed a capability matrix across six broad domains to look at how a client needs to start to operationalize virtualization as opposed to just virtualizing a physical server.

We definitely understand and recognize that it has to be part of the IT strategy. It is not just a tactical decision to move a server from physical machine to a virtual machine, but rather it becomes part of an IT organization’s DNA that everything is going to move to this new environment.

We're really going to start looking at everything as a service, as opposed to as a server, as a network component, as a storage device, how those things come together, and how we virtualize the service itself as opposed to all of those unique components. It really becomes baked into an IT organization’s DNA, and we need to look very closely at their capability -- how capable an organization is from a cultural standpoint, a governance standpoint, and a process standpoint to really operationalize that concept.

Gardner: Erik Frieberg, moving toward this category of being a capability rather than a one-off, how do you get started? Are there some resources, some tried and true examples of how other companies have done this?

The key goal here is that we work with clients who realize that you don’t want a two-year payback. You want to show payback in three or four months.



Frieberg: At HP Software, we have a number of assets to help companies get started. Most companies start around the area of automation. They move up in the same six-level model -- "What are the basic capabilities I need to standardize, consolidate, and automate my infrastructure?"

As you move further up, you start to move into this idea of private-cloud architectures. Last May, we introduced the Cloud Service Automation architecture, which enables companies to come in and ask, "What is my path from where I am today to where I want to get tomorrow. How can I map that to HP’s reference architecture, and what do I need to put in place?"

The key goal here is that we work with clients who realize that you don’t want a two-year payback. You want to show payback in three or four months. Get that payback and then address the next challenge and the next challenge and the next challenge. It's not a big bang approach. It's this idea of continuous payback and improvement within your organization to move to the end goal of this private cloud or hybrid IT infrastructure.

Gardner: Erik Vogel, how about future trends? Are there any developments coming down the pike that you can look in your crystal ball and say, "Here are even more reasons why that capability, maturity, and strategic view of virtualization, looking toward some of the automation benefits, will pay dividends?"

The big trend

Vogel: I think the big trend -- and I'm sure everybody agrees -- is the move to cloud and cloud infrastructures. We're seeing the virtualization providers coming out with new versions of their software that enable very flexible cloud infrastructures.

This includes the ability to create hybrid cloud infrastructures, which are partially a private cloud that sits within your own site, and the ability to burst seamlessly to a public cloud as needed for excess capacity, as well as the ability to seamlessly transfer workloads in and out of a private cloud to a public cloud provider as needed.

We're seeing the shift from IT becoming more of a service broker, where services are sourced and not just provided internally, as was traditionally done. Now, they're sourced from a public cloud provider or a public-service provider, or provided internally on a private cloud or on a dedicated piece of hardware. IT now has more choices than ever in how they go about procuring that service.

A major shift that we're seeing in IT is being facilitated by this notion of cloud. IT now has a lot of options in how they procure and source services, and they are now becoming that broker for these services. That’s probably the biggest trend and a lot of it is being driven by this transformation to more cloud-type architectures.

Gardner: Okay, last word to you Erik Frieberg. What trends do you expect will be more of an enticement or setup for automation and virtualization capabilities?

Most people, when they look at their virtualization infrastructure, aren’t going with a single provider.



Frieberg: I'd just echo what Erik said and then add one more aspect. Most people, when they look at their virtualization infrastructure, aren’t going with a single provider. They're looking at having different virtualization stacks, either by hardware or software vendors that provide them, as well as incorporating other infrastructures.

The ability to be flexible and move different types of workload to different virtualized infrastructure is key so having this choice, because that makes you more agile in the way you can do things. It will absolutely lower your cost, providing them the infrastructure that really leads to the higher quality of service that IT is trying to provide to the end users.

Gardner: It also opens up the marketplace for services. If you can do virtualization and automation, then you can pick and choose providers. Therefore, you get the most bang for your buck and create a competitive environment. So that’s probably good news for everybody.

Frieberg: Exactly.

Gardner: We've been discussing how automation governance and capabilities around virtualization can take the sting out of moving toward a strategic level of virtualization adoption. I want to thank our guests. We've had a really interesting discussion with Erik Frieberg, Vice President of Solutions Marketing at HP Software. Thank you, Erik.

Frieberg: Thank you, very much.

Gardner: And also Erik Vogel, Practice Principal and America's lead for cloud resources at HP. Thanks to you also, Erik.

Vogel: Thank you.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. You’ve been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast. Thanks for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Transcript of a podcast discussion on how automation and best practices allows for far greater degrees of virtualization and efficiency across enterprise data centers. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2010. All rights reserved.

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