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Lack of IT skills keeps virtual deployments small

Staffing, security and management concerns continue to limit virtual server deployments, keeping many IT shops with 30% of their server infrastructure virtualized, according to a recent study.

Network/Systems Management Alert By Denise Dubie, Network World
March 22, 2010 08:28 AM ET
Denise Dubie
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Industry analysis by Beth Schultz, plus the latest news headlines.

Many IT departments have turned to virtualization to consolidate resources and minimize investments in new hardware, but not as many have realized the full cost-saving benefits of the technology – mostly because virtualization adds complexity to environments, requiring updated IT skills, advanced management and automation tools, and new security standards.

What does it take to manage virtual servers?

“We still are just not getting over that hump. We see the level of virtualized servers at 30% today, and many predict that will grow to more like 50% in two years, but honestly everyone was saying the same two years ago,” says Andi Mann, vice president of virtualization product marketing at CA. “I don’t think the economy played a role in slowing it down, rather the downturn economy probably sped up adoption rates.”

Forrester Consulting interviewed 257 IT professionals to learn more about the barriers to adoption and found that a lack of skills specific to virtualization worries many. Not only do new skills need to be acquired for virtual systems, but new management and automation technologies must be introduced into the environment to truly reap the rewards of virtualization. According to the report, “the proper skills for the future are difficult to attain and retain.”

“Staffing is the number one challenge, that and security,” Mann says. “Right now, virtualization is being put to use on low-hanging fruit, such as file servers and departmental servers because many believe there is still a lot of work to be done to use virtual systems for enterprise-wide, mission-critical applications and workflows.”

But with a depressed economy, training staff in virtual systems might not have been possible for some. And because virtualization demands automation to truly run efficiently, worry over losing positions to automated processes could keep some from fully adopting the necessary automation tools.

“Existing staff must be trained in new technology and its complexity mandates automation. As functions are automated, reliance on skilled staff decreases,” the report reads. “A potentially dangerous skills gap is emerging. Another skills concern is how virtualization fits into an overall service management movement. Such expertise is currently in short supply.”

With full-blown virtual environments in a sort of wait state, the promise of private clouds could also be delayed, according to Mann. Cloud computing provides a pool of virtualized resources that could be allocated on demand, growing and shrinking as needed. For many, security worries keep them from considering public clouds today, but private cloud environments could help IT departments model themselves as service providers and enable business units to consume only the resources they need. Yet without virtual server adoption peaking past 30%, cloud environments could be stymied.

“Virtualization is not a project, it is a strategy and the logical evolution to that strategy is cloud, private or public,” Mann says. “For companies starting to think about cloud, they need to work at increasing the body of skilled labor and realize how critical advanced management and automation tools will be to get over the barriers of adoption virtualization is creating.”

Schultz is a longtime IT journalist. You can email her or find her here.

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