Agencies trying to wring more value from virtualization

Despite challenges, agencies hope to fully adopt client, server and storage virtualization by 2015

Despite the benefits of deploying virtualization technology, federal information technology managers responding to a CDW-Government survey say their agencies are not using the technology to its fullest extent.

Agencies cited lack of staff and budget as top impediments to further virtualization adoption. Nearly half said their IT departments are not appropriately staffed and trained to manage a virtual environment.

However, even with those challenges, most agencies said they will fully implement client, server and storage virtualization by 2015.

Seventy-seven percent of the 600 federal, state and local IT managers surveyed in May have implemented some form of virtualization and 89 percent are benefiting from the technology, according to The 2010 Government Virtualization Report.


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The benefits of virtualization, which broadly refers to consolidating several systems onto one physical machine while maintaining their separate identities, include reduced operating and capital costs, improved utilization of computing resources and greater IT staff productivity, respondents said.

Despite those benefits – and imperatives such as the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative – 81 percent of all agencies are not making the most of virtualization, and just 33 percent employ a “virtualization first” strategy, under which someone must prove that a new software application does not work in a virtualized environment before the agency will buy a dedicated server to support it.

Concerns about security seem less of a barrier than a year ago, the report states. Almost half of all federal, state and local IT professionals think virtualization improves security.

“It's a benefit because with a centralized database structure, securing and monitoring a few machines is much easier to manage than 50-plus,” said a county government IT manager.

"The easier the data is to get by users, the easier it is to get to others,” said a federal civilian network administrator respondent.

Agencies are adopting server virtualization more aggressively than client or storage virtualization, with 91 percent either considering or implementing the technology.

Server virtualization is a method of running multiple independent server operating systems on a single physical server. The systems operate as if they were isolated servers -- from the user's point of view, nothing changes -- but in reality they are running as multiple virtual servers on a single machine.

Eighty-four percent of all government agencies are considering or implementing client virtualization. Many, however, are still in the learning phase, the report states. Client virtualization is a method of running multiple desktops and/or applications centrally in the data center.

Fifty-seven percent of all government agencies surveyed have implemented storage virtualization. Storage virtualization is a method of taking many different physical storage networks and devices, and making them appear as one "virtual" entity for purposes of management and administration.

The report includes a few state and local virtualization case studies. For instance, officials in Chesapeake, Va., realized that heat produced by the city’s data center was reducing the lifespan of the equipment it housed. Rather than expand the data center and replace underutilized servers, the city chose to deploy 84 virtual servers, significantly reducing server sprawl and increasing the longevity of its hardware. By the project’s end in August 2010, the city expects to reduce the number of physical servers from 135 to 20. City officials also expect to achieve energy cost savings of $3,000 a month -- a 50 percent savings -- and annual hardware cost savings of $200,000.

Next on the city’s list is a storage virtualization project, slated to begin in July 2010, which will include off-site data backup and disaster recovery capability.

“One piece of advice I can give federal and state and local agencies is to capture your current costs and compare them to the end result. Proving a reduction in total cost of ownership is the only way to truly show the value of IT in today’s economic climate,” said Peter Wallace, Chesapeake’s chief information officer.

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