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Virtualizing tier-one applications: How to turn cynics into believers

Tier-one applications are the lifeblood of businesses, so application owners are protective. But with a little coaxing, you can make the doubters into virtualization believers.

It’s difficult for virtualization administrators to get their organization’s stakeholders on board with virtualizing tier-one applications. But, with the right approach, it’s possible to convince even the most hesitant CIOs and stubborn application owners of its benefits.

Tier-one applications are business-critical programs that demand high performance and availability. Examples of popular tier-one applications include Oracle databases, Microsoft SQL Server and email servers such as Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange.

When you tell application owners that you’d like to virtualize their tier-one applications, the first response is usually something like, “Over my dead body!” This opposition to virtualization often stems from fear of the unknown. Virtualization is a radical architectural change in the data center, and it’s still a relatively new technology, despite widespread adoption.

These obstacles make your job more difficult, but don’t be discouraged. This sample letter is designed to get owners of tier-one applications on board with virtualization.

Dear [insert name here]:

We should seriously consider migrating [insert tier-one application name here] to a virtual infrastructure. I’d like to explain the benefits of virtualization and address any concerns that you may have with the migration, as well as dispel any myths and uncertainties about virtualization.

We chose VMware as our virtualization platform because of the features and benefits it offers over traditional, physical servers. Virtual infrastructure doesn’t just maximize efficiency, it also brings numerous benefits that are either nonexistent or expensive to implement in traditional data centers.

There is nothing magical about virtualization. The hypervisor is simply a software layer that sits between the physical hardware and the operating system, controlling access to resources. It’s transparent, so the operating system and applications running in a virtual machine (VM) are not even aware that they’re doing so.

One of the typical concerns about virtualizing applications is performance -- in particular, that virtualization overhead and other VMs on the same host will slow down applications. With each release, VMware vSphere has improved performance and decreased resource overhead. For example, its dynamic resource controls distribute workloads evenly among hosts, keeping resource contention to a minimum. And if your application needs more memory, we can provide more with the click of a button. Hardware vendors such as Intel and AMD have also built features into their products to make virtualization more efficient and further reduce resource overhead. This evolution means that virtualized applications now run at native-performance levels -- or better.

Another common concern is application support and licensing. Almost all vendors now fully support virtualization. Many of them have also adapted their licensing so it’s based on the virtual hardware configuration of the VM instead of the physical hardware. Support statements for VMware are usually found on a vendor’s website or knowledgebase articles. If you check with the vendor, I’m sure you will see that there is nothing to be concerned about.

Now let’s talk about all the benefits that virtualization will provide to your application. For starters, you can easily take multiple snapshots of a VM at any time, which creates a copy of the VM that you can easily fall back to, if needed. This capability comes in very handy when upgrading or patching your application.

Availability is another benefit. In a physical infrastructure, if your hardware fails, your application is down until the problem is fixed. With VMware High Availability (HA), if the physical hardware, OS or application fails, your VM simply restarts on another host and gets up and running in a few minutes. In addition, you have continuous availability with VMware Fault Tolerance, which keeps an identical secondary copy of a VM running on another host.

Virtualization can also improve scalability. With virtualization, your VM always sees the same virtual hardware, regardless of the underlying physical hardware. Instead of upgrading a server or buying a new one to accommodate a growing application, you can easily move it -- without any downtime -- to a larger host. This ability to move VMs also comes in handy for disaster recovery.

I would love to demonstrate this technology and its features to you, answer any questions and even set up a pilot project. Once you see virtualization firsthand and get comfortable with how it works, you’ll be convinced that it’s the best thing for your application. We even have special tools that easily convert your physical server into a VM, so you will not have to reinstall everything. Once you have moved to a virtual infrastructure, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Best regards,

[insert your name]

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