As customers embark on a journey to the cloud, many have embraced virtualization as a way to help them get there. What was once a technology only used for development or testing now is something that almost all data centers today rely on in some shape or form. Many organizations have had success virtualizing most of their servers, but have stopped short of virtualizing their business critical applications.
But why is that? Are business critical applications somehow different enough that they can’t be virtualized? Most of the time the answer is no – these applications are not drastically different in their configuration than other applications. The difference, of course, is that these applications are critical to the business and downtime or poor performance can lead to revenue loss or the inability to even operate the business. While some business critical applications have specific requirements that can make it difficult (or expensive) to virtualize, in reality a large majority of these applications remain physical simply because of risk, perceived or otherwise.
Today there are very few applications that can’t be virtualized strictly based on technology requirements, but technology is only part of the story. Below I lay out some key strategies you can follow to help make it easier to virtualize your business critical applications.
Remember back when you were performing physical to virtual migrations in the early years of virtualization, and you ran tools like VMware Capacity Planner to help with server sizing? It’s no different with business critical applications – having a true understanding of the utilization of your servers will help you properly size the environment to meet performance demands.
Gather ALL the Requirements, Not Just Technical
As technologists we’re all usually more comfortable talking about things like IOPS or compute requirements, but you need more than that to be successful with business critical applications. Who are all of the stakeholders? Are there compliance requirements for your application? What about SLAs?
The best way to gather all of the requirements is to bring everyone to the table. This includes application owners, developers, IT management, and folks from the business who rely on the application. Without input from all of these teams, you only have part of the story and have much less chance of being successful.
Implement a “Virtualization First” Policy
Put in a policy (agreed to by management,) that states that all new workloads are virtualized unless there is a compelling reason not to. Application owners are more likely to be receptive to virtualization if they see that IT has embraced the technology and trust it for all workloads. The policy will also force those who are resistant to virtualization to provide a compelling reason why their workload cannot be virtualized, opening up the opportunity for you to show them why it can be.
Show Benefits beyond Simple Consolidation
For business critical applications, benefits like consolidation or even cost savings are not likely to move the needle in terms of interest and acceptance. Instead, make sure the business understands all of the benefits of virtualizing these applications. Make them understand how they can respond more quickly to changing demand, be more agile, and in some cases provide better availability than would be easily possible with physical servers. These are the benefits that are more likely to appeal to the owner of a business critical application than, say, reducing physical server count.
Pick Your Moment
When is the right time to virtualize your business critical applications? I can’t believe I waited this long to say this but here goes: it depends! Without a business driver it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get traction to virtualize the applications just “because.”
So when is the right time? Application upgrades often provide a great opportunity to introduce virtualization. When the hardware on which the application is currently running has reached the end of its useful life or the warranty has expired, you have another opportunity to virtualize the application. Make sure you align the project to a business driver or key event and you’re more likely to be successful.
Almost all applications can be virtualized, even those that are business critical. Virtualizing these applications can help your organization move along the path to the cloud. By following these strategies, you can increase your chances of success in your project.
Good luck and happy virtualizing!
Want to learn more about virtualizing business critical applications? Then be sure to check out my new book: Virtualizing Business Critical Applications on VMware vSphere. Co-authored with Alex Fontana of VMware, this book covers tips, tricks, and best practices for virtualizing the latest Microsoft enterprise applications including Exchange Server and SQL Server.
For more from Matt, visit his blog: The Lowercase w.