HP FORUM - Virtual computing can be a real hassle

Upcoming Hewlett-Packard virtualization forum in Las Vegas is expected to draw 7,000 attendees

For a technology that's supposed to make computing easier, virtualization is becoming quite complicated.

The Hewlett-Packard Technology Forum that starts Monday in Las Vegas will feature as many as 87 user training sessions on virtualization, more than any other category, organizers say.

This is a recognition both that virtualization continues to gain in popularity but also that end users have a lot of questions.

The HP Technology Forum (HPTF) is expected to draw 7,000 attendees. It coincides with the HP Software Universe event expected to draw 3,000 people to Las Vegas, though to a different venue than the Technology Forum.

Despite the appeal of virtualization as a way to use IT resources more efficiently, the technology adds a layer of complexity that IT managers may not be prepared for and may reduce the anticipated return on investment.

The number of virtualized servers deployed by businesses is exploding "like bacteria in a petri dish," said David Gee, vice president of marketing for HP Software.

Users say they face the same management issues running a virtual environment as a physical one.

"I have to track and monitor who gets access to what, who created it. Are they allowed to do this?" Gee said.

Virtualization can make a single physical server act like multiple logical servers, improving server utilization. It allows one server to run multiple software applications simultaneously, reducing the number of computers needed. While virtualization is commonly used in server environments, it's also being used in desktops, storage arrays, networks and for disaster recovery.

But using virtualization to consolidate the number of physical servers doesn't mean your management duties shrink proportionally.

CA Inc., a maker of IT management software, reported in March that 44 percent of 800 IT professionals surveyed globally "were unable to declare their virtualization deployment a success."

The survey, conducted for CA by an independent firm, showed that 28 percent of respondents failed to see the return on investment (ROI) they anticipated, or couldn't determine if they had. Forty percent didn't achieve the cost savings they expected, or couldn't determine if they had.

For one thing, companies don't necessarily save on IT staff costs by virtualizing, said Peter Richardson, director of product management at CA.

If a company that runs 300 operating systems on 300 servers reduces that to running 10 virtual servers on each of 30 physical servers, it still has 300 OSs, and related software applications, to manage, said Richardson. Moreover, as more virtual servers are added, those 30 physical servers could be running as many as 500 applications.

"You could go around universally and ask any client that has virtualized whether they reduced staff and the bottom line is no," he said. Staff isn't reduced because server sprawl continues, even if it's just virtual.

Of course, CA is making the point to promote its own virtualization management software, which, Richardson says, manages virtual environments even if there are different brands of servers on the network.

Server vendors offer virtualization management software, such as HP's ProLiant Essentials Virtual Machine Management software. There also are a few good niche management software products available, "but there is still no fully cohesive virtual management suite," said Andi Mann, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

The HPTF sessions should answer a lot of questions for HP customers about whether virtualization will live up to its promise, said Scott Healy, chairman of the IT User Group (ITUG), which is co-hosting the HPTF with the user group Encompass. Healy is also a vice president of IT at Sabre Holdings Corp.

"The promise of virtualization is when you are able to use servers for different applications at different times without impacting the general availability of your IT resources. Balancing that is a concern for any IT manager," said Healy.

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