What's Slowing Down Virtualisation In Australia?

Virtualisation has obvious benefits in all kinds of scenarios, and recent figures suggest that more than half of Australian enterprises have virtualised some of their workloads. But why isn't the uptake broader?

Picture by Rob Ellis

According to research firm Telsyte, 56 per cent of Australian enterprises are making some use of virtualisation technology for servers, with an average of 42 servers having been moved to virtual servers. That's a healthy start, but it still means that the overall number of server workloads that have been virtualised is still relatively low.

Scott Robertson, vice president channels and alliances for WatchGuard, estimates that the total uptake of virtualisation in Australia is more like nine per cent. "Virtualisation is almost a cut-copy-paste operation these days. If you have eight or nine per cent penetration, what are the other 90 per cent doing?" he asked at a press event discussing virtualisation and private cloud issues in Sydney yesterday. It's a question with many possible answers, but here are some issues that can slow down virtualisation.

Security concerns

Securing virtualised applications can be complicated. "There's a belief that security is somewhat inherent in virtualised platforms," said Robertson, but the reality is that problems in one workload can potentially cause issues for a whole server. "Those lines of demarcation become really important in virtual environments." As Robertson pointed out, virtualisation often complicates firewalling because you need to protect multiple apps on a single device, rather than designing firewalls to work with single-application servers.

Confusion over data storage

In a complex virtualised environment, backup strategies can become more complex, but not all companies handle the transition equally well. "We have enquiries every single week where we talk about helping with virtualisation, but a lot of clients we talk to don't understand how their data is set up; with thin provisioning, they don't know where the data is on the servers," said Adrian Briscoe, APAC general manager for data recovery firm Kroll Ontrack.

Power problems

Virtualising servers can also be complicated by the need to adjust other systems such as power supplies and management. "Moving to a virtualised platform was the easy part," Richard Jenman, ANZ managing director for Eaton. "Moving a power protection system to a virtualised environment is very challenging."

It doesn't work for everything

As we've noted before, virtualisation is not a universal solution for tech deployment. With Exchange Servers, for instance, the benefits can be minimal.

Weighing up the cloud

Many organisations have turned their attention to private or public cloud solutions, a shift which often de-emphasises virtualisation. (Many cloud hosting companies offer virtualised environments, but one solution doesn't necessarily imply the other.)

That solution isn't without issues either. "My concern is that private cloud gives the opportunity for clients to quickly start another server, but there has to be fundamental planning behind how you bring them on," said Briscoe.

Cost assessment is also vital in that scenario. "The great misnomer of public cloud is that it will be cheaper," said Pieter DeGunst, director of sales and marketing at Tecala. "It isn't necessarily true, depending on what you're doing."

What issues have slowed or stopped virtualisation in your workplace? Tell us in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


Comments

    "virtualisation often complicates firewalling because you need to protect multiple apps on a single device, rather than designing firewalls to work with single-application servers."

    The opposite is true - virtualisation allows customers to isolate applications on different virtual servers, since the power available is completely scalable. This is not as easy on physical hardware.

    You forgot cost. This is a major issue for many companies that are still using two plus year old servers.

      Cost is quite clearly mentioned near the end. :S

      yeaaa, we started with the free vmware solution, and with the savings from that evolved to run the full solution after about 12 months and haven't looked back...
      consolidating 12 physical boxes into 3 is pretty sweet!
      we're on the small end of town, however i'd assume that'd account for about 90% of companies out there :S

    Exchange 2010 is built to be virtualised! So that should not slow anything down there!

      No, Exchange will do a good enough job of slowing itself down. :)

    @Barry: They'll eventually need to replace the servers or face a plethora of business risks. At that point, virtualisation becomes a viable option.

    I've had two of my software vendors explicitly tell me that they would not support deployments on virtualised infrastructure. One of them was a VoIP software vendor with real-time requirements, so that's fairly reasonable. But the other is a much simpler package with no real liabilities for virtualisation that I could see.

    That said, we are running both systems on SAN-backed VMWare guests. The only problems we've seen were performance based. Unexpected resource utilisation spikes in one guest affecting others on the same host. But those were ironed out long ago.

    What's holding it back, tech-phobic upper management...

    Weird that, when I listen to various global vendors involved in virtualisation, they all say that Australia has a higher percentage of virtualised systems than in the US or Europe. What data is the *firewall* salesman basing his claims on?

    Australia is at the forefront of virtualisation. I don't know of a single large company that isn't actively virtualising hardware. The only reason they aren't ALL virtual yet is that it tends to happen at the same rate as physical servers are retired - there's no sense wasting hardware that's still useful. (there's also a lot of weird custom systems where the upgrade path to a VM is not at all obvious, but lets ignore them for the moment)

    At the other end of the scale, small/medium businesses often run off a single SBS server. They'd see some benefits from virtualising (especially disaster recovery), but the cost savings are minimal.

    I don't get this. Why is the "what's holding it back?" question being asked? It's not like this is something having adverse affects on people world wide, we're not waiting on this to happen.

    The fact is companies use the technology suitable for their business. Vitrualisation isn't the be all and end all, it doesn't do everything, it never will. There's no reason every system should be virtualised.

    What is Telsyte's definition of enterprise?
    Is government counted as "Australian enterprises"?
    I guarantee the virtualisation ratio is different in Government compared to commercial.

    Small-medium business will not garner the real cost saving of virtualising their servers when they only have a few hosts. I would assume that the average of 42 servers is about where the cost benefits really make sense. You also have to take into account that SMBs will have a longer cycle between new server rollouts because they need to save cash.

    True enterprise size installations will have a higher number of servers going out of support and can virtualise at a more consistent rate.

    It's hard to imagine a site with only 42 servers having much incentive to virtualise without big ROI savings,

    Australia has been the fastest adopter of virtualization technology because of the producitivty gains, cost savings and overall agility it brings to the organisations. Infact, its the most virtualized region in the world with most organisations now 60 to 70+ % virtualized. That does not tell me momentum has slowed.

    So in summary the problem is a lack of expertise in the Australian market place?

    These are all solved problems that are no more challenging to implement in a virtualised environment than a non-virtualised one. Provided you have the expertise to do it. Pay to get experts in and save money in the long run.

    100% of australia doesn't have to be virtualised, I would suggest we're hitting the peak of virtualisation uptake, with all the businesses that can move to virtualisation doing so, and the others sticking with what their software vendors recommend. You try telling MYOB or Quicken support that you run half a dozen virtualised servers and watch the blood drain from their face

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