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Storage virtualization boom changes integrator strategies

A storage virtualization boom is changing the way users think about storage, servers and desktops, providing integrators with new challenges and new sources of revenue.

Jaymes Davis admits that virtualization has changed the way his company does business with customers.

The evolution of virtualization has allowed Davis' company to shift away from tactical solutions that solve specific business problems toward providing an entire storage business strategy for an end user, said Davis, virtualization practice manager at Entisys Solutions Inc., a systems integrator and VMware partner in Concord, Calif.

Virtualization, the technique of using software and hardware to make many separate storage devices appear as a single large virtual device, is increasing in popularity across the enterprise. About 40% of North American companies have already implemented virtual servers, according to a recent report by Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

That's pushing many integrators and resellers to change their product mixes and the ways they address customer problems, partly because of the varying goals of companies even considering virtualization. The report found that many end-user companies that have adopted virtualization products did so to consolidate servers, but an equivalent number are using the technology to make their server environments more flexible and agile.

Forrester analyst Frank Gillett said systems integrators trying to move customers toward virtualization should realize it's a more complicated process than selling a hardware server; they must ease into the process. "Start with constrained projects, so users can learn gradually and figure out all the implications," he said.

Convincing customers that virtualized hardware has real benefits, however, takes a lot of time and effort, integrators said.

"Until you evangelize to your end customer that a virtual server is equal to a physical server, you won't be able to penetrate further into an organization," Davis said. "A successful virtualization project means the solution provider has to penetrate every system. Every physical piece of hardware in the environment should be part of this strategy, but you have so many departments and barriers," Davis added.

Providing virtualization solutions has created a wealth of opportunities for the three-year-old Foedus LLC in Portsmouth, NH, which started with three employees. Today Foedus has 50 employees and has served more than 500 customers, many of whom ask Foedus for ongoing improvements to their virtualization infrastructures.

"Our clients consistently come back to us for strategies to enable new functionality within their IT organizations," said Craig Sieve, co-founder of Foedus.

Sieve also noted that a customer may want to virtualize storage today and servers tomorrow. Or they may want to virtualize desktops to enable disaster recovery or to improve application availability. Whatever the particular implementation or goal, virtualization is keeping the three-year-old Foedus extremely busy.

"Throughout the course of the year we may have five or six projects that we are working on for one particular customer, or we may be helping a customer consolidate 1,000 physical servers into a virtual infrastructure, which can take up to a year," Sieve said.

According to Sieve's estimates Foedus will have a 100% growth rate from 2005 to 2006. "Virtualization enabled us to reach financial goals much quicker than we ever thought we would," Sieve said. 

Driving the ability of systems integrators to provide better virtualization solutions is the hardware and software tools that have made virtualization projects easier to implement. These tools have also helped to shape IT solution providers businesses in other ways.

"We are the new breed of systems integrators in that systems integrators in the virtualization space no longer have the luxury of being hardware resellers and software integrators," said James Price, president of Fairway Consulting Group Inc., Weston, Fl.

Because systems integrators are implementing both hardware and software into virtualization projects that span those layers of a company's IT environment, companies on both sides of a project have fundamentally changed their business process.

"As much as it's a paradigm shift for a company that has adopted virtualization, it's also a shift for service organizations with regard to how they are structured and how they have to operate in order to support and profit in the new business model," Price added.

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