Q&A: Virtualization questions abound at HP Forum

Nick van der Sweep, HP's virtualization guru, discusses the increasingly widespread adoption of virtualization as well as some of the new technology's complexities

Many of the customers attending this week's Hewlett-Packard Technology Forum in Las Vegas ran back and forth across the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino's convention center absorbing all they could about virtualization. There were 87 workshops dedicated to the new approach to improving the efficiency of data-center operations.

Nick van der Zweep, HP's director of virtualization programs, had a full schedule Thursday, meeting with customers to answer their questions.

Although virtualization is gaining traction, it presents new management challenges to data-center operators, van der Zweep said, discussing virtualization's promise and management issues in an interview. An edited transcript follows.

IDGNS: What is your message to HP customers this week?

Van der Zweep: The message is that we're heading into pervasive virtualization now. If you look back over a number of years, it was a lot of early adopters that were in the fray. Now it's really difficult to find a company that hasn't done some project. With enterprise customers and even some large-to-medium-sized customers, 75 percent of them tell us that they have already implemented a virtualization project or will implement one within 12 months.

We certainly don't see 75 percent of our servers going out the door with virtualization on them. We're probably, in the ProLiant space, in the single digits, but growing fast. Of our Integrity high-end servers, probably around 60 percent of them go out with virtualization.

IDGNS: Of those who are in that 75 percent, how are they deploying it? I've heard people say they're more likely to try virtualization in a part of their IT system like software testing and development than in production. Are you finding that?

Van der Zweep: I've seen lots in production. When we ask for a show of hands in customer meetings of how many are using virtualization, 75 percent of the hands go up. And when we ask how many are using it in production, of the 75 percent who put their hands up only about 25 percent of them put their hands down.

IDGNS: But while virtualization has its benefits, we're hearing that it adds a degree of complexity to system management that can be difficult for customers. Is that what you're hearing?

Van der Zweep: Yes and no. If you think about a physical machine, you've got the hardware, and you install Windows or Linux or HP-UX or whatever, and that's it. Then you run your operations. When you put virtualization into the fray, you now get the box, and you install the hypervisor, and then you slice it up [apportioning a number of virtual machines onto the physical servers].

Some of the early adopter companies took a few people from their staff ... managing servers and put them off to the side and said, 'You are our virtualization guinea pig people'. They would learn how to manage virtualization, and the rest of the staff would stay and manage the physical boxes. But as you move more of those servers into production, that allows the staff group to reunite again.

We integrated virtualization management into Systems Insight Manager so you see the whole [environment]. But you can get yourself into some trouble with virtualization. Before, you had 10 servers and 10 copies of Windows. Now you might have 10 physical servers but 50 virtual servers. You've got to manage across a much bigger virtual environment than the physical environment you had in the past. We had a lot of pleas from our customers to 'please pull this back together so we can provide better management of the virtual environment'.

IDGNS: Is your virtualization manager software brand agnostic?

Van der Zweep: We focus Systems Insight Manager and Virtual Machine Manager on our ProLiant servers, for instance, but if you have a Dell or IBM server with VMware installed on it, it will detect it's Dell or IBM, that there's VMware on it, and work in that environment.

IDGNS: But is the interaction the same experience as if it were an HP server?

Van der Zweep: For the most part. From a VMware standpoint, it's equivalent, but [it's different] when you get into hardware specifics. You can click on a ProLiant server and see the temperatures and fan speeds, and if something goes wrong, Systems Insight Manager can even call back to HP and have somebody come up to fix it without you even knowing about it. We don't do that for the Dell and IBM systems.