How to Use Virtualization to Save Money and Improve Service Quality - Page 4

Using the four keys to virtualization success

The following four steps were critical to the success of our virtualization initiative:

Step No. 1: Standardizing offerings

Prior to this virtualization initiative, developer requests tended to be treated on a one-off basis. Individual requests could trigger a protracted negotiation process between R&D and IT-even though 80 percent or more of the required assets and configurations were common to multiple requests. We leveraged virtualization technology to deliver standard configurations with ruthless efficiency-and that efficiency has resulted in much shorter response times, happier customers and the elimination of the negotiation processes that occurred in the past.

Step No. 2: Allowing for headroom

Although the overall level of spending on server and storage resources will decrease through virtualization, it is critically important to purchase excess capacity in advance of demand. The effectiveness of our closed-loop provisioning process would be significantly undermined if we did not maintain the surplus capacity needed to respond to developer requests on a JIT basis. We routinely try to maintain 10 percent capacity in excess of current demand levels to ensure that we have sufficient capacity available at all times.

Step No. 3: Automating management processes

We used a BSM framework to initially design the overall set of processes needed to support this initiative. Then we employed system management tools in a surgical fashion to automate as many procedural steps as possible. With experience, we grew increasingly confident in our ability to eliminate operator intervention or supervision at specific stages of the overall process. We ended up automating steps in year two of this initiative that we would never have conceived of automating in year one.

Step No. 4: Enforcing policies

Our closed-loop inventory management process has evolved into a positive feedback loop. We are now able to provision virtual environments in a matter of hours or days and our R&D customers are comfortable checking resources in and out of our virtual pools because they are confident that their requests will be satisfied in a timely fashion. Also, management has provided the funding we need to maintain the necessary headroom capacity within our virtual asset pool.

It didn't always work this way. At the outset of this initiative, we needed management support to enforce a "virtual first" policy in responding to developer requests. We needed further support from management in enforcing asset reclamation policies when our monitoring tools indicated that deployed resources were being underutilized. Our positive feedback loop needed a couple of strategic shoves from management along the way to become self-sustaining.

Closing thoughts

Before you read another set of articles about cloud computing or attend another seminar on the topic, look into your own data center and determine how many underutilized assets you already own. Think about harvesting additional cycles or capacity from those resources through virtualization. The financial benefits of virtualization are well established by now, but if your experience is anything like ours, you will realize additional benefits in terms of IT staff productivity, customer satisfaction and time to market (TTM). Along the way, you will also be able to minimize server sprawl, avoid or defer data center expansion, and reduce your current levels of power consumption.

Proficiency in the use of virtualization technologies is similar to proficiency in athletics-practice and persistence will produce quantitative results that can significantly exceed your initial expectations.

Mark Settle is Chief Information Officer at BMC Software. Mark joined BMC Softwarein June 2008. He has served as the chief information officer of four Fortune 300 companies: Corporate Express, Arrow Electronics, Visa International and Occidental Petroleum. Mark has worked in a variety of industries including consumer products, high-tech distribution, financial services, and oil and gas. During the early stages of his career, Mark was the director of a systems integration business unit within Hughes Aircraft Company. Mark is a former Air Force officer and NASA program scientist. His formal training is in the geological sciences. He received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from MIT and a PhD from Brown University. He can be reached at