Data center managers see green, battle virtualization hangovers in '08

It’s time to face the challenges of managing virtual environments and adopting green computing practices

Virtualization and green computing continue to take hold among data center planners, but industry watchers argue the hype surrounding the technologies could leave many data center managers disappointed with the reality.

Data center managers who championed virtualization and green computing in 2007 now face the task of delivering the benefits they promised -- something industry watchers say will be no small feat.

As projects move beyond the planning phase in 2008 into broader deployment, data centers managers will need to evaluate how they're going to manage and support the new technologies without overhauling their entire infrastructure.

"Virtualization and green computing will flip-flop for a while, because they represent challenges beyond what they are said to do," says Robert Whiteley, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "We will see a bit of a virtualization hangover at first because while a lot of people have embraced the technology and seen some success on x86 servers, virtualization forces IT to look differently at managing an environment. And the greening of IT, that is going to be a challenge because a lot of companies don't have a full grasp on what it is yet."

Managing more than VMware

To start, virtual server management technology will become more critical as VMware faces competition in the hypervisor market that until now included few players.

With Citrix (considering its XenSource buy), Microsoft, Oracle and Sun all having plans for virtualization, data center managers will for the first time "face islands of hypervisors within their IT shops," which will have to be managed as a cohesive whole to truly cash in on the benefits of the technology, says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Hypervisor providers and management vendors alike will be working to deliver the platform on which multivendor virtual servers can be managed. For instance, VMware acquired virtual server management software maker Dunes Technologies earlier this year. 

"The market is going to see the need for a heterogeneous virtualization management platform that we haven't seen up until this point," Staten says. "It will cause a significant shake-up in the management space when start-ups pop up, and bigger players that haven't been doing a very good job will look to acquire them."

In addition, data center managers are considering virtualizing not only server resources, but also storage, network, desktop and application resources -- -- which will drive a need for more comprehensive management tools. But data center managers aren't about to replace their existing management tools, so industry watchers say vendors will have to work to cover more platforms and develop standards to help customers manage heterogeneous environments.

"A big debate in 2008 will be around how to put hooks into management tools from the multiple virtual resources, and data center automation will become even more critical," Whiteley adds.

Indeed, data center managers are looking for vendors to provide more automation capabilities to their tools. With the volume of servers increasing exponentially due to virtualization, systems administrators will not be able to keep up-to-date server and application configuration records or track change manually. Acquisitions such as HP's Opsware buy and BMC's RealOps purchase could help these vendors get ahead of competition looking to not only manage but also provide automation in virtual data center environments.

"The noise I am hearing the most around data centers involves managing virtual servers and automation. IT has gotten to the point where it absolutely needs to control the configurations of multiple systems and has no reasonable means to do so without considerable automation," says Jasmine Noel, a principal analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates.

It's not easy going green

Just as virtualization is no slam dunk, neither is green computing. Industry watchers say that working toward a greener computing environment isn't going to be easy for most data center managers due to technical, political and other reasons outside the control of IT.

"Legislation is coming about putting corporate responsibility programs in place, but in a lot of cases IT doesn't fall under the umbrella of corporate responsibility," says Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of global enterprise research at the Yankee Group. "IT needs to start understanding more about data center facilities and find ways to design data centers to eat up less power."

According to Steven Harris, director of data center planning and design at consultancy Forsythe Technology, the amount of power that data centers consume has doubled in the past five years and it is projected to double again in five years. Because the data center consumes a significant amount of the resources from facilities, many will be looking to IT to be more cost-effective and conserve energy.

"When people think about how they can save money and lower operating costs, unfortunately the big changes from the facilities side -- such as replacing an electrical or mechanical system -- are extremely expensive and introduce significantly more risk," Harris says. "So companies will be looking to IT to make changes such as consolidation, virtualization and optimization to lower costs and do so without causing major outages."

For IT, that means finding ways to reduce their power consumption -- but not necessarily because they care about the environment. Forrester's Staten says in 2008 data center managers will be tasked with "energy auditing," which involves understanding the entire power path from the utility to the CPU. While vendors will paint such efforts as green computing, companies are more looking to cut costs.

"Being green is not the main driver for trying to conserve power. It's a cost-driven measure for IT," he says.

One way to start cutting costs is with products that shut off unused workstations or limit power consumed by servers. For instance, companies such as Partners Healthcare and many others tapping Energy Star initiatives have already reported millions in savings.

Still, the disconnect between the premise of green computing and the IT drivers could cause confusion among data center managers lacking clear direction from corporate management.

"There isn't anything you will be doing when you won't hear about green IT," but without more knowledge of the subject and technologies relating to green IT, "the whole argument could blow up in IT's face," says Rich Ptak, founder and principal analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates.

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