Steve Buck talks about the growing virtualisation industry in South Africa.
Steve Buck, MD of Edgetec
What challenges does virtualisation technology help to address?
The most common application of virtualisation technology is server consolidation. It allows companies to minimise the number of servers they need by getting better use out of what they have. The average server uses between 5% and 15% of its processor; with virtualisation in place, that goes up to between 65% and 70%.
Once you have fewer servers, you have less hardware to worry about. For example, a company that has 100 servers can reduce that number by 80% to 20 by implementing virtualisation. That obviously cuts all sorts of other costs.
Virtualisation also enables you to optimise software development by streamlining development and testing in a lab environment. If you are either a software developer or in a company that does a lot of in-house software development, you can capture and reproduce defects, which means you can easily identify and repair bugs.
Given that a big part of application development is testing and determining whether the software meets the objectives of what it was written for, runs efficiently and does not have errors, virtualisation is a huge plus for developers.
It also provides affordable business continuity. If a server goes down, virtualisation makes it possible for you move an application to another virtual machine so quickly that users will not even be aware there was a problem. This level of resilience - the ability to provide and maintain an acceptable level of service in the face of faults and challenges to normal operation - is key. When something unexpected happens, you have to get your business operating normally as quickly as possible.
Virtualisation is recognised by Gartner as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the IT market. Are you seeing that growth in SA?
Yes, we are. It has been estimated that the industry grew by over 400% in 2007. Expectations for 2008 are that it will see further growth of between 200% and 300%. That is serious compounding. Nevertheless, the industry has a limited number of vendors. We expect new players to come into the market who will further stimulate development. That will be followed by a maturation phase in three to four years' time. Realistically, we can expect consolidation to start happening in about five years.
What are the challenges of persuading customers to put their trust in an emerging technology?
A major challenge in any IT project is proving return on investment (ROI). Most of our customers experience it between three and eight months after implementation, with many achieving ROI in the same year in which they have made the financial investment in virtualisation - that is something almost unheard of in IT.
We also need to prove to them that there will be reduced complexity in their IT environments, that it will be easier to support their servers, and that things will just be simpler when it comes to managing software and supporting users.
The third challenge is convincing customers that the solution will improve the resilience of their business. Resilience is a funny thing - you only know that you have it when something goes wrong. Ironically, this is one area in which we have benefited from the power failures as it has made our customers far more aware of the need for business resilience.
The most effective way of overcoming these challenges is to provide reference sites. Nothing can prove your case more effectively than a successful implementation. We encourage people to ask our existing clients all the questions; they are our most powerful sales tool.
What are the financial benefits of virtualisation?
Top of the list are reduced server and cooling power requirements. With energy-saving legislation on the horizon and the national drive to use power more efficiently, you cannot overstate the need for companies to have fewer servers in place. Because they produce an incredible amount of heat, reducing the number of machines in the server room not only cuts down on the amount of power used by the company, but it also means that the air conditioners don't have to work as hard. In a big data centre, that makes a huge difference.
Software licensing costs are reduced as software is licensed per processor, not per machine. If a server has four processors and you use them to run 20 virtual machines, you only pay for the four licences.
Fewer servers also mean lower support costs and less downtime.
What is the hottest trend in virtualisation at the moment?
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is cool because it simplifies the desktop environment. In the large corporate environment, problems with desktops or laptops multiply every day by hundreds or thousands of people. With VDI, companies can host individual desktops inside virtual machines that are running in their data centre. Users access these desktops remotely from a PC or a thin client using a remote display protocol. Because applications are managed centrally at the corporate data centre, organisations gain better control over their desktops. Installations, upgrades, patches and backups can be done without user intervention. You can control what people have on their machines, back-ups are done centrally on the server and are not the responsibility of individual users, and new users can be up and running within minutes.