My time at VMworld came to an end yesterday morning and while I only had one meeting (a roundtable discussion with F5 executives, end-users, analysts and F5 product and marketing managers) prior to my departure, the roundtable was a great capstone to my stay at VMworld. More than anything else, it encapsulated the user infatuation with VMware that is blinding them to some of the major problems that early adopters of server virtualization are encountering and willing to discuss for anyone willing to listen.
The main thoughts that I took away from this roundtable as well as from VMworld in general included:
- Once you are virtualized, there is no going back – and no one wants to. A question I asked repeatedly of users at VMworld is if you had the option to go back to a physical environment, would you? Prompting it was the fact that everyone was talking about the challenges they were having managing their virtualized environment. But everyone, regardless of their organization’s size or industry they were in, said they could not imagine ever going back to a physical environment despite the problems. I spoke to IT execs from Bluelock, Computer Sciences Corporation, Consonus, General Motors, InterContinental Hotels Group and Raytown Quality Schools (located near Kansas City, MO) and none of these individuals could fathom going back to a physical infrastructure. GM explained in a presentation how over the last few years it has reduced its time from 18 months to 14 months to take cars from concept to showroom. Raytown Schools did a complete data center migration in two days instead of two months by virtualizing its servers first. Consonus, a managed service provider, is looking to provide its clients a virtual roadmap that takes them as far down the outsourced provider path as their clients are comfortable going. Offerings for its clients include anything from agentless online backup to complete management of its IT infrastructure.
- The technologies to manage the virtual infrastructure are still too immature. One user at the F5 roundtable complained bitterly about the inability of VMware’s VirtualCenter to scale so that it can support an enterprise infrastructure that is built around VMware. Specifically, VirtualCenter is too dependent on SQL Server, it is not clustered and it can break if even routine workloads are placed upon it. He cited one instance where VirtualCenter could not even consistently feed another system the monitoring data it was collecting without having issues or failing. This made it extremely difficult for his company to build the type of infrastructure that it needed to deliver the level of support his clients no longer just expect but demand.
- Beware the “”New Baby” syndrome. Everyone is excited about all of the new opportunities that VMware creates and the fact that it immediately cuts costs doesn’t hurt a customer’s willingness to adopt it either. But beware the “New Baby” syndrome (which is what the Burton Group’s Senior Analyst Chris Wolf calls it). What he is referring to is the fact that all of VMware’s benefits can overshadow the management challenges associated with managing a virtualized server environment. Once it is implemented, organizations suddenly realize: “Now that we have it, what do we do with it?” Once deployed it hits them that they have no staff to manage it which forces them to go out and hire talent, usually at a premium.
- “The tactical implementation of virtualization is failing.” This was the most profound statement to come out of the F5 roundtable. More disconcerting, it was made by someone who has had a virtual environment for 5 years. His concern was that next year when we all meet up to do a similar roundtable at VMworld 2009 will we all be talking about the “New Baby” syndrome and where do we go next? Another individual with F5 astutely pointed out that until this room (referring to individuals gathered around the roundtable) is filled with CIOs and CEOs and virtualization is treated as a strategic initiative, the “New Baby” syndrome will continue to occur. For now, most companies treat virtualization in all of its forms far too tactically and not as a strategic initiative. The consensus of those at the roundtable was that organizations will have to look at outsourcing the management of IT infrastructure after they have it virtualized. Companies like Bluelock and Consonus have gone even further and are betting their business models on it. Based upon what I am heard and saw from companies who have already virtualized their environments, I wouldn’t bet against them.