Category Archives: Virtualization

Blog posts about the world of Virtualization

SDN Sizzle

It’s funny. It seems there are two sets of conversations around SDN, and perhaps around every new technology.

First, there are the business entities (vendors, disti’s, VAR’s, SP’s, end-users) who dismiss the general hype and then take their existing product set and re-position themselves within their general definition of the technology, basically pulling SDN (or VDI, or whatever) back in its evolutionary progression, and highlighting existing capabilities they have that “already do SDN, and have been for years”.
Second, there are the business entities that embrace the hype, define it in their own way (“spin”), and talk about how their new products will fit into their definition of the SDN hype.

It feels like those firms that are not marketing oriented, who are really engineering oriented, will fall into the first camp. These firms come across as defensive and there is a whiff of a threat that they cannot quite get their heads around. Conversely, the firms who understand the value of the hype and are trying to ride the wave in order to sell their products, fall into the second camp. Their threat is the risk of being exposed as a “fake” by the engineers of the first camp who dissect the second camp’s solutions such as they are, in the here and now, dismissing the marketing opportunity, all for the sake of truth in engineering.

I wonder if the first camp is going to lose. If not outright, might they lose a step or two?

Sizzle sells, whether it is perfume or routers.

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Like Westcon Group, Carousel Industries is Bullish on Virtualization – and Teamwork

As a premier global distributor, it’s our responsibility to work closely with our partners to ensure the greatest success possible for their customers.  The
recent efforts of Westcon and Carousel Industries to virtualize our own data
centers has enabled our companies to give customers the perspective they need
to fully realize the benefits of with virtualization and cloud computing.
To elaborate more on this great success story — Kevin Gulley, Editor of Carousel Connect – discusses these efforts in further detail.

Like Westcon Group, Carousel Industries is Bullish on
Virtualization – and Teamwork

At Carousel Industries, we understand the value of teamwork. That’s why we partner with the best and brightest IT vendors in the industry, including Westcon Group. So when they asked us to pull together a guest blog post for the Westcon blog, we were thrilled.  Westcon Group shares our passion for using technology to drive business value, whether it’s through unified communications, data center solutions, infrastructure or security.

And like Westcon, Carousel also “eats its own dog food” when it comes to technology by finding ways to use it effectively on our own internal networks. One recent success story we share is virtualization technology.

To keep up with our rapidly growing requirements for data center resources, in early 2010 Carousel set out to execute on a server virtualization strategy in our Exeter, R.I. headquarters. The idea was to provide greater application functionality and flexibility, especially for mobile users, while giving us some breathing room for expansion and lowering power and cooling costs.

The results have exceeded expectations.  We replaced 100 physical servers with just five machines for peak periods and three for nighttime hours. All told, we’ve virtualized more than two-thirds of our enterprise server infrastructure thus far. As a result, we’re saving lots of money on power, cooling, IT support and operational costs.

Westcon Group has gone even further, as it’s one of the few companies that has virtualized 100% of its server infrastructure. And it is likewise getting some big benefits, as outlined in this story from InformationWeek, which quotes Bill Hurley, CTO and Executive VP of Westcon Group:

The new virtualized environment requires fewer system administrators to manage, saving on managed services expenses, lowered the cost of data center consolidation, and lowered electricity consumption in the new digs. Hurley said getting to 100% virtualized has saved Westcon $1.1 million over a two-year period. He now runs 350 virtual servers on the 22 UCS blades, with some blades hosting only 3-4 virtual machines and some hosting 25-30.

Virtualization is about more than cost savings, as Bill highlighted during a recent CIO Tech Talk he did with us. The technology lays the foundation for lots of other applications that help Carousel and Westcon Group drive more business value, including unified communications, mobility solutions, security and, in particular, cloud computing.

We learned quite a bit during the course of our virtualization project – so much so that we wrote a white paper called “Best Practices in Data Center Virtualization” to share our experiences. One of those best practices is to make good use of expert resources and technology partners.

If you need help with your virtualization project, you’d do well to leverage the expertise and resources of a partner like Westcon Group. For years, Carousel has benefited from the experienced team at Westcon; we encourage you to do the same.

Hot, Not Hot, and Be On The Lookout For….

Hot

– Flat network – already discussed in earlier posts, but continues to remain an early, “going to get hotter”, topic. Each of the vendors is, or has, recently made significant announcements about their converged Ethernet/fabric/2-tier/1-tier offerings.  Driven in large part by the need for a data center network with lower latency, optimized for virtualization, the network is the data center, and the data center is the network.

– Data Center to Data Center networking – really a subset of the above, but there are nuances such as WAN Acceleration technologies specifically designed for DC to DC as opposed to DC to Campus. This nuance will become more and more of a marketing issue for those better positioned as opposed to those perhaps not really in that DC-to-DC space.

– SBC’s – starting to get the recognition of their importance relative to their role in UC. They can be considered the switch/firewall equivalent for VOIP/UC. As companies and the public overall migrate to VOIP and SIP, SBC’s become critical. Expecting steady growth with an inevitable over-hype by the media once they understand the technology in the next few months.

– Cloud failures – the stories will remain hot for a while. In addition to service failure there will be offering failures – established vendors pulling out of initial cloud forays.

Not Hot

– Cloud success stories – this will take a backseat for a while, but cloud successes will definitely continue nonetheless.

Be on the lookout for:

– Virtualization security – as vendors continue to realize the exposure that virtualization presents, more and more messaging and positioning will appear. The exposure is two-fold. First, the obvious – a new layer in the stack introduces new opportunities for bad people to do bad things. But second, perhaps not as obvious, is the governance associated with the potental consolidation of previously physically separate servers/applications/data onto one single physical server. The IT group doing the consolidation may not recognize the compliance risks they are introducing.  And potentially even more interesting, the hypervisor doesn’t have a mechanism to process business rules associated with the company’s compliance or regulatory policies yet.

– POE – probably not the most exciting discussion point, but POE dedicated vendors have technologies coming out that can help support the powering of all the new video demand going on in the network. This is especially important for the growth of outdoor video/signage (think stadiums and traffic). Many of the vendors embed POE, but some of it is “just enough” and really does not provide the flexibility companies will need as they grow their video usage.

– Tablet Videoconferencing – there is definitely the potential for a schism to appear. I think it is already appearing. We could end up with high end videoconferencing rooms and many low-end video conferencing end points being tablets. The issue over video quality is over. Pretty much every device now has HD capabilities. With the growth of tablets, I pads or Android, the consumerization of IT is forging some new paths in video and UC.

What is a Private Cloud ???

I recognize that the media has moved the term “cloud computing” into an over-hyped state.  But, as a CIO, I also know that there is real value in utilizing the cloud.  The “Public” Cloud.  What has me concerned is that the media is now calling everything “the cloud”, breaking it into public cloud services and private cloud services and I think I am missing the point with “Private Clouds”.

The categories of “cloud services” are, in simple terms:

1. Infrastructure as a service(IAAS) – this is the “storage as a service” or “compute as a service” type offerings.

2. Platform as a service(PAAS) – this is the Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure type offerings.

3. Software as a service(SAAS) – this is the Salesforce.com type offerings.

One of the most appealing aspects of the cloud is that the cloud concept is based on a “pay by the drink” model.  You only pay for what you use.  When you’re not using it, you don’t pay – like a utility.

But this is where the benefit of the private cloud seems to break down.  It breaks down on two levels: First, as a CIO do I have or want to invest in having the capability to provide my enterprise with a pay-by-the drink model and the associated billing functionality and; Two, even if I had the capability, do I really want to have that as the model for my enterprise IT service?

The above presumes that when one talks about a private cloud they are not just talking about virtualization.  Virtualization is a great opportunity to more effectively and efficiently manage the data center.  Westcon’s data center is 100% virtualized.  We are a big proponent and find great value in virtualization.  And, the underlying principle that accelerates cloud offerings really is virtualization.  But, by definition a private cloud is more than just a virtualized data center.  The CIO delivering a private cloud has to provide the abovementioned cloud services while doing so with a pay-by-the-drink billing capability, competitively priced.

There has to be more.  For example, even if tomorrow the CIO made IAAS/PAAS/SAAS offerings available to his or her business units with a pay-by-the-drink usage tracking and billing capability, are the internal business units prepared to take on the responsibilities associated with consuming such services.  I know it’s been very fashionable to question the value of IT, but the truth of the matter is that every well-managed firm utilizes IT to compete more effectively.  Can the CIO compete with the public cloud offering on price, and still provide the competitive value inherent within a business-process savvy internal IT organization. Few CIO’s can compete with Google or Microsoft on price.  Therefore the CIO is then left with monetizing the infrastructure sitting in the enterprise’s data center.  And, the CIO must either monetize the business process services inherent within IT or dismantle those services.  This will not create value for the enterprise.  And I doubt the CFO wants to hear about all the capital infrastructure write-offs the CIO would need to incur to become price competitive.

There is no doubt that the public cloud can create value for the CIO and the enterprise.  But it requires proper planning, and its value in the short term is incremental.  But the concept of the private cloud is different.  It requires a substantial upheaval within the IT organization as well as within any business unit that relies on the IT organization.  It is unclear to me where the cost/benefit is within that internal upheaval.

Then again, if the private cloud is really just virtualization, then let’s just call it virtualization, and reinforce the value of virtualization’s benefits.

LEAP

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that Westcon is a distributor of Networking, UC, Security, and Data Center technologies.  We do about $3.0 billion in revenue per year and distribute solutions to over 70 countries.  We conduct business under two brand names – Westcon and Comstor.  As CTO I am responsible for both the technology that runs the enterprise and also setting the overarching strategic direction of the firm from a technology perspective.  So, I get to work with the stuff we distribute.

There have been a number of posts on our Data Center Consolidation project and our migration to virtualization.  Our journey towards selecting the right platform for us was important on a number of levels.  Obviously we wanted to make the best selection for our enterprise from an ROI perspective.  But we also planned ahead and utilized the decision making process as a framework that we would share with our customers (Resellers, SI’s, Service Providers) to help them in understanding the decision making process of the average mid-size enterprise end-user/buyer. 

The Framework

Substantial technology decisions must always be premised on rational business justification.  The bigger the purchase, the more demand for a coherent, articulate business justification (ie not tech-talk).  The learning process involved in acquiring new technology has to be at two levels – what is the technological benefit and what is the business benefit.  In addition to learning about the technology and the business rationale, there is the need to actually experience the technology in action.  Especially if the technology is on the leading edge, such as Virtualization or Cloud.  And, no technology purchase happens in a vacuum.  Understanding how the new technology can be architected into a heterogeneous environment needs to be part of the process.  Lastly, the larger the decision, the greater the need for a clear plan, with specific milestones, in order to ensure business and technology decisions are synchronized for success.

LEAP – Learn, Experience, Architect, Plan

This high level decision making process became a framework that the channel can use in conversations with their customers.  In order to deliver on this framework, Westcon recognized that an environment was needed to step through the four steps of the process – learn, experience, architect and plan.  To achieve that goal, Westcon will begin launching LEAP Centers around the globe in the coming months.  The first center opens in Brussels, Belgium this week (September 29, 2010) followed by the opening of the Denver, Colorado LEAP Center on October 20, 2010.  Additional sites in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, and South Africa will come online in the future.

Each LEAP center is designed to help the channel (with end-users when desired) learn about new technologies, the business value of the technology, and how the technology actually performs in live, heterogeneous technology environments.  The goal is for Westcon’s customers (Reseller, SI or Service Provider) to truly understand these new technologies and what the proper architectures are for solutions that include these new technologies.  Ultimately the goal of the LEAP center is to create a more informed channel partner who can successfully sell the solutions efficiently and effectively.

Our experiences as an average IT organization showed that our engineer’s “new technology skepticism” was eradicated when they had the chance to work with the equipment real-time.  As an example, in the case of our data center consolidation, the original selling points for our technology configurations were superseded with more important benefits once the team got their hands on the equipment. Appreciation for these new capabilities would not have been accomplished without working with the equipment.  That is a key objective of the LEAP Center.

Your LEAP Center

Each LEAP Center is a fully configured data center, running hardware and software from multiple manufacturers in order to create a more realistic IT environment.  The center contains equipment from vendors that, in some cases, Westcon does not even distribute.  Westcon has full-time engineers dedicated to the running of each LEAP Center.   But make no mistake about it, the LEAP Center is a center for our customers.  We built it for our channel customers.  Our goal is for our customers to be successful in deepening relationships with, and ultimately selling to, their end-users by creating greater value to their customers through the knowledge gained in a LEAP experience.   We want our customers to consider the LEAP center as an important component of their portfolio of sales strategies, tactics and tools.  LEAP Centers will help our customers Learn and Experience the technology, but also be an environment wherein they can bring in their customers to work on specific Architectures and Plans.  In order to do that, Westcon has committed millions of dollars in the development of the LEAP Center.  Ultimately, Westcon believes that this investment for our Resellers, Systems Integrators, and Service Providers will generate profitable success for our customers, their customers, our vendor partners and the channel as a whole.

We look forward to seeing you at one of the LEAP Centers soon!

Desktop Virtualization

A lot of hype, wow, a lot of hype.

One observation

The actual ability to introduce the solution into the end-user enterprise needs to be looked at in two parts.  It seems that those most excited are focused on the value and flexibility of the end-points.  We need to be able to focus everyone’s attention on the real hurdles associated with VDI which is primarily around SAN (or simply put IOPS) performance.  Our counsel to our customers, as a distributor, is to introduce the benefits of the technology without requiring capex investments on end points.  End users can get a lot out of VDI pilot programs by using existing end points (laptops and desktops) and focusing the pilot on the introduction of the VDI platform and the demand it places on the SAN and the network.  It allows everyone to get a better sense of the complete cost/benefit picture without getting tripped up on the introduction of a new end-point platform.

Cisco UCS

As some of you know, Westcon is in the midst of a data center consolidation effort.  We have two data centers, UK and US, and are consolidating them into one managed services center in Cincinnati, Ohio US. 

A major part of the consolidation is the migration to a completely new platform – Cisco’s UCS with EMC Clariions (CX4-480’s and CX4-120’s).   When appropriate, I will definitely post updates (good, bad, ugly, hilarious, scary) about the project.  We were one of the first (actually number 4, I think) to order the equipment and it was shipped this past summer (2009).

Where are we?  Working with Cisco’s AS team, our managed services data center partner (CBTS – Cincinnati Bell), EMC engineers and our own internal team, we stood the equipment up over the Fall of 2009, and put our first production applications on the new equipment December 2009.  We will complete the move in 2010.

We will definitely get into it as we go forward, but a couple of quick observations from a CIO/CTO perspective (as opposed to at a bit/byte/block level):

  • Deployment was good – NIC pools, Clariion integration, and server provisioning was seemless.  It really was smooth and easy.
  • The UCS Manager is really the sexiest part of the whole thing according to our engineers.  Having everything in one place is alot easier than what we previously had, and appears to be industry leading.  The team loves this thing.
  • Truly stateless, the service templates really work. 

Along the way, we have had a few bumps (HBA challenges, Fiber Interconnect challenges), but so far less than I expected.  Sometimes they have been scary, but I have to give Cisco/EMC credit – they have been pretty responsive.  We have had some configuration issues which I believe are more due to being one of the first than to being really a systemic problem.  We had a few minor challenges when we stood the equipment up that were immediately addressed and have had one or two bugs appear since then, but they are addressed in a reasonable time by the relevant manufacturer.  We have the usual misery associated with software vendors who have not mastered licensing issues in the 21st century, ie they can’t give us a reasonable licensing model for a fully virtualized environment, but I will save my frustration on this issue for another post.  And, it is not specific to Cisco/EMC, though the technology really forces you to work through these issues if you want to really exploit the technology fully.  But I digress…

The cool thing here is that as a distributor of Cisco UCS, I really believe that our own employee’s can be some of the best, “tell the truth”, resources for our customers (resellers, service providers and systems integrators) who are working closely with their end-users on making these very complicated decisions.  Westcon is living it, and we have some brutally honest employees (believe me, as CIO, they tell me everyday how IT can be better! 🙂 ).  This experience will benefit Westcon, but can simultaneously help our customers, which I think is great.

Westcon’s savings associated with moving to the new platform have yet to be truly realized, but all indications are that once we are fully migrated we will see all the expected benefits (financial and technological).  We already have started to see improvements in the applications that have been migrated, so everything is looking up.

Don’t misunderstand me, this is not easy.  People are killing themselves working around the clock, but the technology is helping us, doing what it was advertised for the most part. Data Center migrations are the types of decisions that put CIO’s out on the street.  So far, though, I think we are doing well.  The rewards will outpace the risks.  And, so far the UCS Technology is for real.  But stay tuned, as we hit our milestones (or run into hurdles) I will keep you posted.