Gap between Expected and Realized Benefits of Virtualization and the Cloud Persists

The results of Applied Research’s 2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud Survey are in and they reveal that enterprises are approaching both of these technologies (virtualization and cloud) with a great deal of caution. The feedback from 3,700 enterprises of various sizes in 35 different countries suggests that many organizations still struggle with the capabilities, challenges, and benefits of virtual and hybrid cloud computing even as the boardroom holds the line on budgets and staffing levels.

This study which was commissioned by Symantec queried C-level executives and IT managers in these organizations about their experiences with virtualization and cloud computing. The survey asked them about their awareness, adoption, goals, challenges, and attitudes regarding the following technologies:

  • Server virtualization
  • Storage virtualization
  • Desktop/endpoint virtualization
  • Private Storage-as-a-Service
  • Private or hybrid cloud computing

Their responses reveal that enterprises implement these technologies in a progression that reflects the maturity of each technology in its respective market. For example, 45% of the organizations surveyed are implementing or have implemented server virtualization–the most mature of the technologies–with storage virtualization at 43% and desktop/endpoint virtualization at 41%.

Conversely, private storage-as-a-service and private hybrid cloud computing drop to 35% and 36%, respectively. Symantec’s John Magee, vice president of virtualization and cloud solutions, Symantec, notes, “This points to the idea that server virtualization is kind of the leading wedge on these projects.”

Enterprises are also finding it a daunting experience to deploy these technologies with in-house expertise. Therefore many are relying on third-party service providers for help with implementing them which coincides with what DCIG is hearing anecdotally from end-users. This represents a major shift within IT from a traditional IT delivery to a service-provider model.

The natural progression of implementation also reflects the discrepancies between expectations and realities of the technologies. Although expected benefits for each technology varied, some of the aggregate goals enterprises hoped to realize through their use included:

  • Better performance
  • Improved scalability
  • Increased disaster recovery (DR) preparedness
  • Reduced expenses

Enterprises generally achieved their goals with server virtualization with only an average 4% gap between anticipated and realized goals. However, expectations and outcomes for the other technologies were notably out of synch, including an average gap of 33% with storage virtualization. Magee suggested new infrastructures, operating procedures, and complexity of the virtual storage environment could be reasons behind this gap.

Other technologies displayed similar wide gaps between anticipated and realized benefits including desktop/endpoint virtualization at 26%, private storage-as-a-service at 37%, and hybrid/private cloud computing at 32%. As the survey report aptly points out, “Expectations are unlikely to be matched by reality until IT organizations gain sufficient experience with these technologies to understand their potential.

However enterprises should NOT be deterred from implementing these technologies. They simply need to set more sensible goals based on a pragmatic and thorough assessment of the technologies’ capabilities and limitations.

Organizations said they are more likely to utilize virtualization and cloud technology with test and development environments initially.  As they gain experience and comfort with the technologies, however, they demonstrate a greater willingness to place business-critical applications–such as HR, accounting, and ERP–in them.

The survey also revealed a disconnect between executives and IT with regard to placing applications in virtual and cloud environments. 60% of CEOs, 50% of CFOs, and 62% of CISOs were characterized as “somewhat/extremely open” to move business and mission-critical applications from physical to virtual servers because of concerns over reliability, security, and performance in spite of potential advantages such as reduced expenses.
In contrast, 74% of server groups, 70% of CIOs, and 64% of application owners were willing to adopt these technologies for business-critical applications. Successful utilization of these technologies, therefore, is contingent on all key players in the organization being more closely united in their attitudes toward them.

What may also be contributing to their willingness to adopt virtualization and the cloud is the growing availability of software and hardware designed for these environments. Products such as Symantec’s ApplicationHA and VirtualStore typify these offerings as they facilitate the creation of reliable, high-performance virtualized deployments for business-critical applications. Further, as organizations gain more experience with these technologies, executives can be expected to increasingly agree with IT on virtualization and cloud computing initiatives.

This changing attitude is reflected in the survey as 59% of enterprises intend to virtualize database applications within the next 12 months. Another one-third also plan to implement virtualization within the next year for business-critical applications such as HR, accounting and ERP according to the survey report.

The future, then, for virtualization and cloud computing as essential strategies for enterprises is promising in spite of some early hiccups.  The report says, “At this point it’s largely a matter of when, rather than if, an organization will adopt these technologies.

So as organizations work through the kinks and gain deeper understandings of the technologies and how to best utilize each of them, expectations and results regarding performance, reliability, security, and cost savings will increasingly converge.

The report goes on to offer four key recommendations for a smooth transition to virtualization and cloud computing:

  • Don’t operate in a silo when it comes to cloud computing. All IT departments need to be involved in planning and implementation, because all are affected by its use. For example, 80% of respondents identified improved overall agility of IT as a “somewhat/completely important” reason for originally considering storage virtualization. It is hard to imagine the goal of agility being realized unless all of IT is involved in achieving it.
  • Modernize your existing infrastructure. Modernize as needed by virtualizing server, storage, and networking. But don’t a make a reckless leap in adoption by going from static technology directly to hybrid/private cloud without first maximizing efficiencies with existing infrastructure.
  • Set realistic expectations and track your results. Look past the hype in cloud computing, evaluate the technologies prudently, and set realistic expectations of their benefits.
  • Ensure alignment between IT and executives in virtualization and cloud initiatives. Executives have concerns over security and availability, and it’s important for IT to show it can address those concerns with solutions such as ApplicationHA and VirtualStore typifying the offerings that facilitate this alignment.

With the boardroom holding the line on budgeting and staffing, IT must be able to demonst
rate the value of virtualization
and cloud computing to the organization. With greater experience, innovative products, IT-wide involvement, realistic goals, prudent implementation, and tracking of results, IT should find that task becoming easier all the time.

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