Initially, the customer was internal to IT, including everything from print servers to development machines, the owners of which all carried IT business cards themselves. Now, as business applications become virtualized, these new stakeholders are less concerned with GHZ, more concerned with uptime, and clamoring for assurances that the virtual environment will meet or exceed their experience with physical servers.
What began as an interesting technological experiment has now become an opportunity for IT to shape its future. It can embrace this pivot point in infrastructure architectures as a chance to reframe the relationship with the business. The new relationship is one of a service provider, delivering to the business customer an ongoing level of performance in support of the workloads. Rather than being in the server business, IT can be in the service business.
To the business customer, this changes the ordering process. Instead of specifying gigabytes and gigahertz, the business simply assesses the critical nature of the application and the acceptable thresholds of risk tolerance, and trusts IT to provide the necessary virtualized IT. Instead of a point purchase at the start of a project, the resources can be modified over time, growing and shrinking to meet budgetary constraints and market demands. Freed from the bounds of a fixed set of resources, the business can run the business, while IT can manage the rest.
Such a model has five key benefits:
- Increased returns on IT investment
If the appropriate service levels, risk thresholds, and alerts are agreed upon between IT and the business customer, then IT can own the resource allocation decision, while ensuring the business receives the agreed-upon service. By cutting the excess over-allocated resources, IT can greatly increase the density of VMs in their environment, saving hardware and software costs.
- Increased admin to VM ratios
With deep configuration information, knowledge of critical workloads in high service tiers, and proactive alerting to potential issues, a smaller team of administrators can dependably manage growing numbers of VMs while improving service quality.
- Prioritized response time
By creating separate thresholds and alerts for workloads of different service levels, prioritization decisions of both administrative time and IT resources can be made according to the priorities of the business.
- Delighted business customers
To overcome that distrust, the key is to provide the customer with enough visibility to assure them of the quality and consistency of the service delivered. Sadly, most virtualization management consoles are both overwhelmingly powerful and complex, and wholly unsuited to the needs of the business customer. Instead, a role-based web-based dashboard, which is tailored to answer specific customer questions on performance, uptime, and configuration changes can go a long way towards allaying concerns.
Further, customer self-service can go a step further, enabling them to answer their own questions about what happened, when, and what was the impact of the change. By placing these tools at their fingertips, IT can anticipate a decrease in requests for additional resource and in troubleshooting reports. By exposing more information about their environment, the customer will be far more trusting of this new infrastructure paradigm.
- Confidence in the infrastructure
In order to demystify the black box that is the virtual infrastructure to the IT management, they too could benefit from some visibility, not only to the configurations and utilization levels, but also to the service being delivered to the business. Armed with statistical information on uptime and resource consumption, IT management is in a better position both to defend the strength of the infrastructure and support ongoing investment. Perhaps most importantly, consistent demonstrable success builds confidence, which drives organizational support and growth.
As with all major transformations in the IT world, virtualization brings with it change beyond the physical hardware and the bits and bytes of software. IT is increasingly critical to the operations of most businesses, and therefore the organizational implications during this wave of change are more far reaching than before. However what may seem like a burden is really a tremendous opportunity for IT to infuse itself more centrally as a core partner to the business.
Of course, there is an opportunity to resist. With the growing availability of cloud computing, it is possible simply to outsource the entire virtualized infrastructure, leaving the service providing to actual third party service providers. Some larger firms have begun that process already, in an effort to avoid this very organizational change.
However, once the virtualization is outsourced to the service providers, IT organizations find themselves managing the existing systems: the unix boxes and the mainframes, all of which are next in line to be virtualized and outsourced. IT becomes a legacy division, actively contributing to its own irrelevance. Most CIOs are not seeking this eventuality.
Faced with the choice to move forward, embrace a service model, and pursue greater partnership and integration with the business, or move backwards to the known territory of mainframe management, most motivated IT executives and systems administrators will chose the former path. Gladly, they are no longer alone in this choice, and with their colleagues and peers in other organizations, the future of virtualization delivers on better ROI, lower costs and much better service.
Lilac Lilac Berniker is senior director of business development for Fortisphere.