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Disaster recovery ousts consolidation as top driver for virtualization

Disaster recovery is now the top driver for virtualization adoption, ousting server consolidation, and storage is the biggest virtualization challenge, indicates a recent survey.

Over the past several years, adoption of server virtualization among Fortune 1000 companies has exploded and become mainstream. This growth is largely because of the no-brainer return on investment and total cost of ownership benefits of server consolidation. Our recent Focus Virtualization Survey (Virtualization Management: User Survey Report) of more than 250 companies confirms this, with organizations reporting increased utilization; reduced space, power and cooling; reduced TCO; and increased ROI of servers.

But when respondents were asked about the importance of various drivers for virtualization, server consolidation was no longer the No. 1 motivation for virtualization adoption. The top driver listed was implementing disaster recovery DR, with server consolidation ranking second and server utilization third. And roughly 50 percent of respondents reported improvements in their disaster recovery plan as a result of adopting virtualization.

Why the shift? A closer look at the data offers some insight. For organizations with more than 250 servers, consolidation remains the No. 1 driver (these shops can realize huge savings from consolidation and they have likely implemented some form of DR already). For companies with 50 to 250 servers or for those with less than 50 servers, however, disaster recovery is far and away the top driver. This finding is consistent with our experiences with smaller organizations and reflects two key points:

  1. Smaller organizations with fewer servers may not have enough boxes for server consolidation to be a major driver. Reducing from 20 servers to two or four, for example, may not cost-justify virtualization -- particularly when you include the licensing fees, staffing, training and support required for a major new technology.


  2. Virtualization dramatically reduces the cost of entry for implementing a DR plan by eliminating the need to duplicate the hardware infrastructure at a secondary DR site. This can allow an organization that previously viewed DR as an expensive luxury it couldn't afford to now implement a cost-effective DR plan.

Further, with disasters garnering lots of press attention in recent years -- and with compliance requirements bringing the need for and the awareness of disaster recovery to the forefront -- organizations of all sizes now view disaster recovery as a critical need rather a wish-list item. In the past, smaller organizations have lacked the budget to set up a secondary site with all the servers and storage present at the primary site. But virtualization changes the game here, allowing these shops to create a disaster recovery site with virtual servers running on only a few physical servers and thus greatly reducing the cost of entry.

Several interesting technologies have emerged in this area, and users have had great success in exploiting virtualization to implement a DR strategy and plan for the first time. In addition to the base virtualization platform, notable offerings in this space include Novell PlateSpin Ltd., which has a software solution (Protect) and an out-of-the-box appliance (Forge); Vizioncore Inc.'s vReplicator and DoubleTake; VMware Site Recovery Manager, Tivoli Storage Manager; and CA (which target larger organizations).

Storage still an issue
When examining virtualization issues overall, storage is a top issue for these survey respondents. Backup and storage were by far the top two pain points listed among users who have implemented server virtualization. So while disaster recovery is a key driver for new virtualization implementations, storage issues continue to be a challenge during the implementation process for a virtualization project.

Vendors are coming to grips with these challenges for large and small implementations. The recent VMworld 2009 conference in San Francisco featured myriad new releases and new technologies to address storage challenges as well as specific new product offerings focused on small and medium-sized business (SMB) users.

Appliances such as Novell PlateSpin Forge are a good example of a good SMB type of solution. Forge offers an out-of-the-box solution built on ESXi and protects up to 25 servers. It allows an admin to simply select the servers to protect and then does most of the setup automatically. For shops that have more virtualization expertise and want more control, features and functions, the full-blown PlateSpin Protect product allows admins to get into the software and configure more knobs and switches.

Other offerings, such as those from Vizioncore, connect disaster recovery capability with backup functions – à la vReplicator and vRangerPro. Leveraging common base features, these technologies combine backup, replication, file-level restore and virtual machine-level restore with other capabilities like scheduling and automation to solve a variety of backup, DR and image management issues. For SMB shops without much IT staff (time or expertise), leveraging similar tools within a suite to solve multiple problems offers obvious advantages.

While server consolidation and all its benefits continue to drive larger shops to virtualize more of their servers, smaller shops have begun to jump on the server virtualization bandwagon as well. And both the big and the little guys have begun to reap not only the consolidation benefits but also the improved disaster recovery benefits that can be delivered through virtualization.

For more information on trends, pain points, virtualization management priorities and management tool ratings, watch for more tips here and/or check out the FOCUS Research Series: Managing the Virtual Environment.


Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus. Barb has spent over 30 years in technical, marketing, sales, senior management and industry analyst roles with IBM, StorageTek, Novell, EMA and multiple successful startups. Barb is Virtualization Chair for Interop, Blade Systems Insight and DataCenter Insights, and serves on several advisory boards on virtualization and cloud computing. She has authored hundreds of articles, business and technical white papers and research studies, in addition to her book "Blade Servers and Virtualization."

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