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Virtualization - GovITwiki


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Virtualization is a hot buzzword in government information technology right now. As such, virtualized solutions are often pitched to government offices by vendors.

This pages offers some background on what virtualization is, how it can be used, and why it may, or may not be the right approach for a specific government solutions.

First, virtualization is not a specific technology. It is multiple solutions which can help with system consolidation, while making more efficient use of available processing power. It can be distributed computing, but with more logic behind the tasks.


The Basics of Virtualization

  • Make a single physical resource look like multiple logical resources
  • Make multiple logical resources look like a single physical resource

The former can include disk or system partitions, while the latter can include things like a redundant array of independent network (RAIN) interfaces. (This can consolidate several network access points to appear to systems as a single, higher-bandwidth link.

When government IT shops investigate virtualization they may be focusing on the technologies above, or they might be investigating system or application virtualization.

  • System virtualization can make several Servers appear as one server to Applications and end users, or it can partition servers or portions of a network into multiple discreet/logical systems.
  • Application virtualization can spread an application and its functions over several machines, or it can launch multiple instances of a virtual solution on the same machine. For example: quickly launching multiple instances of Web servers on a single large server.

Yet, to take advantage of virtualization, IT infrastructures usually need significant upgrades. If a government organization thinks system and application virtualization is the right solution for their needs, they usually must make a long-term commitment to migrate to a virtualized infrastructure across their enterprise. A return on such investment can often take several years, though it may be faster for large organizations that are consolidating multiple older systems.

System Virtualization Challenges

  • Incentive. Cutting costs may reward an organization with a smaller budget for the next fiscal year. So why make the effort? (Answer, such programs problem need to be dictated at the agency's CIO level.)
  • Overcoming the status quo. Starting can be costly. Government offices with limited budgets are more likely to take a wait and see attitude.
  • Interoperability vs. proprietary solutions. Agency-wide virtualization that's capable of reducing costs requires interoperability across a full range of systems that plug into a government network. A proprietary solution may be tempting if it provides a quick, affordable migration toward virtualization, but it can lock systems in for the long term. This may not provide the hoped-for savings across an enterprise.

Approach Virtualization Only if You See a Return on Investment

Do your return on investment (ROI) research and calculations before deciding if system virtualization is the right solution for your department.

  • What are your current operating costs? Will your expenses climb anyway if you just do nothing?
  • How much will you really need to change if you want to build a virtualized infrastructure? You may need to upgrade hardware, software, and your network. You may face additional licensing fees, IT services maintenance, etc.
  • On the plus side, virtualization might let you close data centers, reduce headcount and trip software licensing costs. But all of this needs to be investigated before taking the plunge.

Because there are multiple types of virtualization many decisions must be made about new systems vs. the cost of operating legacy systems (or keeping those legacy systesm as part of a partially virtualized infrastructure.

Only after considering the items liste above (and others) will it be possible to paint a clearer picture of whether virtualization makes economic sense for your organization. (And, if so, what type of virtualization makes the most sense for your agency business needs.

See also: Networking Equipment, Enterprise Architecture, Government IT Policy, Metadata Activities.

Virtualization Vendors

VMware provides an assessment of the IT workloads within the environment. The output from the assessment will provide complete TCO/ROI details for decision makers. The assessment allows one to run multiple scenarios based on re-using existing hardware or procuring new hardware. Details include the following (but not inclusive): power savings, cost avoidance factors and can be calculated over multiple years. Most of the clients that have implemented VMware solutions have seen an average ROI of 8 months (power reduction avg. 68%, server consolidation ratios of 30-1 or less depending on server work loads). Virtualization of your IT environment doesn't necessarily equate to "staff reduction" rather think of this solution as allowing staff to spend less time doing manual IT tasks that could be automated.

Intel's virtualization technology is available with vPro, Xeon, and Itanium processors.

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