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Virtualization: Channel opportunities update

Virtualization is a hot topic which continues to gain steam as virtual capacities grow and businesses take more advantage of it. As virtualization technology evolves, your customers' needs evolve as well. An ever-increasing remote workforce requires greater security and more storage virtualization capacity. This year's VMworld 2007 is running Sept. 11-13, so we decided to ask our expert panel about virtualization opportunities. In this Q &A, our panel of experts from SearchSystemsChannel.com offer advice on how you can take advantage too and grow your business opportunities.

What is VMware's VMmark and would it be worthwhile for a channel professional to learn more about it?
According the VMWare product site, VMmark is the first benchmark dealing specifically with virtualization. Instead of measuring a single workload on a particular hardware setup, VMmark takes a tile approach to benchmarking. A tile is a set of diverse workloads that may be found in a datacenter: A database server, a file server, a Java server, a web server, and an idle machine are included in a tile. Basically, these tiles are virtual machines. The performance of each virtual machine is measured and results are reported. More tiles can be added to test the underlying hardware and virtualization software scalability.

I believe that it would be worthwhile for a channel professional to learn more about it, so that they can produce benchmarking results for customers who are trying to consolidate workloads. It will also help VAR's gain experience on proper workload balancing when virtualizing complex environments. The product is platform agnostic, so it will benchmark other virtualization platforms besides VMWare. However, I would be cautious with the results. Even though VMWare is working with the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) to make VMmark a standard benchmarking tool for virtualized workloads, it is still VMWare's product.

More information on VMmark can be found at the VMmark page on VMWare's website.

How could a VAR or Reseller use virtualization solutions when it comes to database administration services?
Consolidating -- to get the most bang for their hardware buck! Virtualization offers companies the ability to host multiple servers on a single piece of hardware -- each virtual instance sharing the hardware with other instances. Many companies will find themselves with legacy applications which have not been migrated to new versions of the operating systems (OS) or SQL Server. VMware will allow you to run an instance of Windows NT 4.0 and SQL Server 6.5 in an isolated instance on hardware other OSs and versions of SQL Server. Note that it does not save on licensing costs. (Visit How to buy Virtualization and Multi-instancing)

Fast provisioning -- VMware allows you to create a template server and quickly deploy it. For example, if you create a new application and you wish to test it on a variety of OS platforms, running a variety of SQL Server versions and editions, you can quickly create them from a template and perform quality assurance/regression testing on your application. When you consider the alternative of having one server for each version of the OS and SQL Server to QA, the applications on the cost savings become obvious.

Isolation -- VMware allows you to throttle the amount of CPU and memory a VMware instance will receive. With SQL Server you can consolidate multiple SQL Server databases on a single instance and still deliver optimal performance for each application using the database. There is a limit of around 1,500 databases per instance before you have to start using another instance. However, a badly behaved application can degrade the performance of all applications using that instance and even all applications using other SQL Server instances on that box. With the processor and memory throttling, VMware allows you to isolate badly behaved applications on their own VMware instance and they will not degrade the performance of other VMware or SQL Server instances.

Disaster Recovery -- While VMware is not an appropriate tool for most disaster recovery requirements, it can be used in some scenarios. Be sure to test it end to end to ensure it meets your goals.

There are some challenges when running SQL Server on VMware; primarily memory and disk limitations. It is not uncommon to see disk queue length in excess of 2,000 for some VMware instances. You must ensure that if you deliver a virtualized solution involving VMware, or any other virtualization server, that performance is not impacted and service-level agreements are met.

For the VAR or reseller, virtualization offers considerable opportunities to help them consolidate their clients' SQL Server environments. This offers considerable cost savings and will ease the management burden, as there are less physical machines to monitor and standardization is typically easier to implement. Process isolation can help to deliver maximum performance in a consolidated environment.

It also can help channel professionals to create test, develop and QA environments on a variety of platforms. Currently, VMware does not recommend running very large databases (VLDBs) on VMware; however, as technology improves and with the increasing power of modern servers, this may change.

Do you see channel opportunities coming from Windows Server 2008's Windows Server Virtualization? If so, how do you recommend VARs or systems integrators leverage this new product?
Windows Server Virtualization is Microsoft's response to a growing market for virtual machines, virtual services, and virtual applications. (Just witness the very successful initial public offering of VMware.) As companies increasingly look to consolidate servers, save on management costs and reduce spending, virtualization offers a great answer to needs.

To get started with Windows Server Virtualization as a sales item:

  • Get started with the beta version of Windows Server 2008. When Windows Server 2008 releases to manufacturing later this year, a beta version of Windows Server Virtualization will be included with the package. This is how a lot of companies will learn of the product, and they will surely have questions for you.
  • Conduct virtualization feasibility studies at your clients' requests. Identify servers they have deployed that are "taller than wide" -- in another words, require a lot of individual machines but don't require a lot of hardware capability per machine. These types of deployments are ripe for consolidation using virtual technologies.
  • Discover the hardware virtualization features available on today's processors. Learn how Windows Server Virtualization takes advantage of hypervisor technology on AMD and Intel processors and educate your customers on this.

This is not to mention, of course, the most significant way to get started: When beta code becomes available to you, test it!

With virtualization's popularity skyrocketing, what kinds of opportunities do you see for VARs and systems integrators when it comes to Linux/Unix? Do you also see any specific challenges?
Virtualization is arguably the hottest topic in the server market today. Virtually every business either has implemented some form of virtualization within their server infrastructure, or is in the process of coming up with strategies to take advantage of virtualization. That said, there are a myriad of opportunities out there for system integrators that focus on Linux and Unix. First and foremost, it is essential that VARs and system integrators truly understand the technology in the context of determining the problems that they are trying to solve for their clients. Further, they must be able to clearly articulate the business drivers for virtualization. Specifically, how will virtualization save their clients money? By using the services of your company, how can you provide a better return on investment (ROI) for them than others can?

Let's start with product; first you'll need to determine whether you have the bandwidth to focus on different types of solutions. Will you become an expert in VMware or Xen? If you're looking at the short term, certainly VMware controls the market. With respect to Linux, certainly Xen is becoming a very important solution in the corporate data center. Red Hat's implementation of Xen (already used by SUSE) on RHEL5, helps validate Xen as the leading contender for Linux systems moving forward. Ubuntu ended up going a different route, with their Feisty Fawn edition. Their virtualization strategy is based on a combination of paravirt-ops (a hypervisor-based solution) and KVM. Once you determine the needs of your client, only then can you come up with the appropriate solution. The solution should obviously be tailored to infrastructure requirements that either you or your clients can support.

Specific opportunities for virtualization include new server deployments and server consolidation/migration projects. Everyone is looking to reduce their footprint in their data centers and virtualization does the trick. You can sell them the hardware, software and services to integrate an appropriate solution for them. You can also sell them post-support services and by doing so, carve out a consistent revenue stream that will not dry up when the project ends.

Regarding Unix, my recommendation is to specialize in one vendor, using their strategies. For example, if you go with IBM System p servers (which actually support both Unix and Linux), one would use IBM's own Advanced Power Virtualization (APV) solution. Perhaps the most technologically advanced of all virtualization solutions on the market today, IBM has special relationships through their business partners that help them deploy these kinds of solutions.

I would say the biggest challenge is retaining focus, while retaining your technical talent. With so much out there today, there is just no way for the average VAR to properly support multiple virtualization solutions. I would focus on one for each platform and become an expert in each. Using this methodology, you should be in a great position to properly support all your clients. At the same time, another challenge is retaining your technical talent. Try to cross-train and you won't get caught with your pants down.

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