SunGard has been using virtualization in its data networks and storage networks to weave together customers' infrastructure and its recovery platforms, "so it looks to the customer as one big, ubiquitous network," Lindeman says. "At the storage level," he points out, "we're seeing some real big enhancers especially in the mid-tier area of virtualization, where we can go from one topology to another -- from a Hitachi to an EMC, from an IBM to a Hitachi -- and be able to utilize our assets better. We can look at carving up physical storage across multiple customers for fail-over and recovery use. We're not quite there yet, but we see [storage virtualization] as a vehicle to get us there."
As part of SunGard Availability Services' recently announced virtualization and automation initiative, the company has begun supporting VMware ESX as one of the enterprise-class operating systems it manages for customers. According to Don Norbeck, director of product development at SunGard, the ESX support will be released as a productized offering within six months, and the company is working to develop virtual-to-virtual recovery services in the same timeframe.
"For customers that want to bring up a virtualized environment on a traditional hotsite, that requires a number of additional steps," Norbeck says. "We have the process in place to support those steps, and more importantly the staff there that can support them and turn those up more quickly than waiting for a customer to arrive at our doors."
Norbeck says that the first phase of the initiative is to provide assisted recovery involving dedicated services to individual customers, where SunGard would be doing about 30 percent of the work and the customer about 70 percent. The next phase, a managed recovery services offering projected for sometime next year, aims to reverse that workload. For the managed recovery services, SunGard will do the balance of the work, and it will also select a set of standard components for the recovery platform -- the storage, infrastructure, monitoring, and management technologies, as well as the virtualization platform, converters, and players.
Finally, it's worth noting that physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual fail-over aren't the only ways that server virtualization can help drive down the cost of disaster recovery. One international financial organization, where Tom Ferris serves as manager of servers and storage, is a case in point.
"Virtualization is big in our overall disaster recovery strategy from the perspective that in the business continuity center we have a lot of the core services running on virtual machines," Ferris says. "We don't have separate physical servers for every domain controller, every DNS server, every authentication server. Those are all running on virtual machines, and we've been able to reduce the number of physical servers that we need quite a bit."