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Virtualization: Building Block To An Agile Enterprise

In previous articles I've spoken about the two main components of what it takes to have an adaptable and agile company; IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture. I've also shared some insights on how to put your organization on the track to Business Technology. The real key here is to join the two components, IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture, together with a solid base of virtualization technologies in order to transform legacy "old school" IT into Business Technology.

Virtualization has been around now for several years and has evolved from the test/dev area to server consolidation to the full-scale production environments whereby mission-critical workloads are hosted.  Now it's time to look at virtualization beyond test/dev and server consolidation and take it to the next level. The goal is to create that agile, flexible IT infrastructure that will provide the higher service levels and greater reliability along with further reductions in TCO.  We will consider this Virtualization 2.0. 

Virtualization supports the dynamic goals of both responding more quickly and effectively to business changes and improving IT asset utilization and other IT productivity metrics.  Virtualization supports and enables the service-level management building block (which I'll get to in another article) as it provides an essential meta-repository and management platform for the diverse physical resources populating the enterprise. Effective virtualization bridges and integrates local and remote resources and ultimately ties together a diverse implementation behind a common interface and resource repository. It's a well known fact that effective virtualization can improve asset utilization, making servers, storage and other capabilities more modular and reusable. It also improves system throughput and reliability by deploying computational power when necessary.  This is now being referred to as the "dynamic data center".

So what does this base look like?  The base starts with Resources which includes components like servers, clients, network, storage, etc.  This is our average enterprise computing environment today, so nothing extraordinary.

But now we add the next, very powerful layer of virtualization.  These two layers actually make up the Virtualization Resources foundation of our framework.

I reread an interesting whitepaper recently from Forrester Research that said by this year (2009) over 50 percent of all enterprises will have at least two years of experience invested with server virtualization.  I find it interesting as we sit in the year 2009 and Forrester sees this as the "tipping point" at which companies will have used virtualization enough to have gained the necessary knowledge and should be ready to move to this more strategic application of this technology.  So are we at that point now where the majority of companies are moving into Virtualization 2.0 phase?  I think so, but we have to be mindful of some gotchas.  There are a ton of products out there that claim to make virtualization "easy", but with those products it only seems to shift costs and complexity from physical to virtual.  You will not realize any more agility this way, nor will you realize the business resilience that you thought was obtainable, so be careful.

If we are at this "tipping point" how do we get to the next level and beyond? The simple answer, "a lot of work".   As I mentioned above, this is the year that most companies will start moving away from the server consolidation phase and into a more strategic use of virtualization technology.  With this move comes more visibility from the C-level.  Some of these moves that we will see are virtual desktops, on-demand provisioning of servers and workloads into the cloud, and disaster recovery at a much more thought-out level.  To get the ball rolling to the next stage you have to clearly articulate the:

  • business objectives
  • critical success factors
  • expected return on investment, that provides a comprehensive understanding of the costs as well as the real constraints and risks, and that achieves consensus from your key stakeholders. 

This is critical for the success of a virtualization strategy—a strategy that will form the base of your agile and flexible IT infrastructure.  Virtualization is but one of the components to creating this agile and flexible enterprise.  Within the context of this new enterprise, I have spoken about design rules (design decisions that are consistent with the principles) that are vitally important when evolving IT capabilities to enable a flexible, automated response to change.  The other design rules that go along with virtualization are (we'll address these in another article):

  • Service-oriented architecture.  This is where we enable the rapid assembly and integration of IT services (business services, application services, and infrastructure services) based on reusable components.
  • Model-based automation.  This is where we will define and manage IT services quickly and easily and create a comprehensive model of a business service.  This includes its functional and management aspects, service management policies and objectives, and constituent component and their configuration.

There are many challenges still remaining to get to the agile and flexible enterprise we all want, but we first need to make sure that the virtualization layer of our framework is solidly in place with the necessary strategic focus besides just server consolidation.  We can then move on to the next stage of strategic virtualization practice and that is Virtualization 3.0.

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