CIOs who have converted to virtualization are keen to praise its cost benefits and preach the green benefits of its power savings, but for many the major benefits are yet to be realized. The virtualization process provides massive opportunity to align IT with the business, and CIOs who are ahead of the virtualization curve are taking that opportunity.
Most CIOs who have gone down the virtualization route are still in the process of virtualizing their server farm. The early adopters are going beyond that, using the virtualized structure to be more responsive to the business. They are also the first who are considering how to manage being victims of their own success and how to continue to be responsive to the opportunities offered by virtualization.
Once servers are virtualized, IT staff can provision servers in minutes, test new systems while the servers are online, and install security patches without downtime. Chris Tunnecliffe, group infrastructure architect at global reinsurance firm Aspen, describes the day-to-day benefits he has seen after virtualizing servers. "The service improvements are vast. We don't have to constantly speak to the business about downtime. We are a true 24/7 business."
Tunnecliffe believes that the virtualization process has allowed him to take a key role in driving the business. "Yesterday, I was sitting in a meeting with the risk managers -- the heart and soul of reinsurance -- who are planning a whole new application platform and want to know the lead time for implementation.
"In the past, that would have involved 20-30 servers and making sure there was enough power supply for them. It would literally have taken months. But I was able to tell them it would take less than a month."
Tunnecliffe adds: "Remote users that used to gain access through Citrix clients are excited by this as it gives them a true desktop -- there is no application we can't install. Users can roam globally, or between desks. Our employees are risk-modelling people and tend to run heavy applications. We were affected by heavy users slowing down the system, whereas VMware [the leader in virtualization software] migrates the heavy user."
IT director Steven Dobson implemented virtualized servers to meet the business continuity and disaster-recovery needs of online pharmacy Pharmacy2u, which serves 250 general-practice surgeries across the UK. He then realized that the virtualization he had implemented to ensure business continuity could also be used to grow the business.
Pharmacy2u hosts white-label pharmacy e-commerce systems, including one for a major supermarket. Some of its potential partners are much smaller though, and the cost of investing in servers and the hosting fees for smaller partners meant that Pharmacy2u was being forced to decline business.
"The fees were adding up, so we turned a few partners away. Now we can right-click and paste another server on to the network, rebrand it and the new partner is set up," says Dobson.
As virtualization enables CIOs to be more responsive in providing point solutions, it drives more profound changes that will change structures and processes throughout the business, evoking quicker IT benefits.
CIOs can use the virtualization process to centralize IT operations in a way that might before have been difficult to drive through for budgetary or cultural reasons. This can have a number of welcome effects, including improving data governance and discoverability, centralizing and retaining intellectual capital, and changing IT operations from being siloed by application or department to being a truly integrated force.
Tunnecliffe has used virtualization as a lever to implement better security and governance, both of which are vital for a reinsurance company. "At the end of this week, I am replacing eight of the work-stations in the Lloyds section with thin clients for security and compliance as, no matter how I lock down a workstation, users will store important information on them."
Chris Ingle, consulting and research director at analyst firm IDC's European Systems Group, says: "The interesting thing for CIOs is how virtualization is forcing better management processes. On the server side, we have done some work around mid-size organizations managing their server infrastructure. Most were using manual processes with huge cost implications, but you can't do that with virtualization -- you have to have systems management. Virtualization is driving management technologies, although this is sometimes counterproductive when people invest in big management suites."
He adds: "The process of virtualization uncovers and consolidates servers, which is useful for businesses that find it difficult to adopt change as they are freed to do so."
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