Holistic Virtualization

Organizations that apply virtualization in a siloed manner miss out on its high-level benefits. Here's how to develop an all-inclusive strategy.

In European mythology, Jack Frost is a winter sprite who dances around the landscape creating icicles on trees and frozen patterns on windows. CIOs could be forgiven for wondering if there isn't a similar sprite for virtualization -- one who dances around the data center, waving a magic wand over everything from networks to storage to applications, while chanting, "Let's virtualize this! And this! And this!"

Virtualization, of course, is nothing new; it has been a widely accepted mainframe technology for more than 20 years. Only recently have technologists applied its fundamentals to create efficiencies in a variety of enterprise systems, starting with servers and storage systems and expanding to applications, desktops and networks. There are other variations lurking, including one for I/O virtualization.

The temptation is to pigeonhole virtualization tools within each IT specialty. Who better to understand virtualization of storage resources than, say, a storage administrator? But that would be a mistake for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is virtualization's impact on infrastructure as a whole, from the data center to the cloud. Furthermore, any one virtualized system tends to impact other virtualized systems and the overall IT infrastructure. Without an overall view, you can disrupt security, backup, disaster recovery and more.

"Virtualization is a catalyst for change in the data center," says Gary Chen, an analyst specializing in cloud computing and virtualization at research firm IDC. "It affects everything in the data center."

That's why IT leaders need to look at virtualization holistically, and take a strategic rather than tactical approach to it. That's not to say that the effort will be easy. It won't.

And applying strategic thinking to virtualization is also a way to apply such thinking to IT efforts as a whole. "Virtualization requires a different strategy, because it forces people to reassess business as usual," says Jan Klincewicz, who recently moved from being a virtual desktop program manager at a Philadelphia-based insurance company to being a Cisco solutions architect.

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