Support issues continue to slow virtualisation deployments

By Jo Maitland
Monday, 16 February, 2009

Users at IDC's Virtualization Forum in New York last week US time said that despite budget cuts, they are spending on virtualisation technology, but they added that support issues have slowed some deployments.

Wrigley, best known for its chewing gum, was one of several users we talked with at the show that has run into support and compatibility problems. In Wrigley's case, the company uses VMware ESX 3.5 and has 80 production virtual machines (VMs) running on an HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array 5000.

Wrigley's virtual machines will power off and then power back on as they lose the connection to their logical unit numbers, or LUNs. It turns out the multipathing software on the EVA 5000 is not compatible with ESX 3.5. The result is disk errors and disk locking. The firm's senior infrastructure engineer, Gary Pionke, contacted VMware, and both companies informed HP that ESX 3.5 does not support the older HP storage array. Wrigley can upgrade its storage, roll back to a version of ESX that supports the older array or possibly add a virtualization layer between the EVA and VMware.

"We're doing our best to make it work," said Pionke. But these options are all tough to swallow when budgets are tight.

Virtualization support still an uphill battle
By 2010 there will be more new virtual machines than physical machines -- 16.6 million -- installed worldwide, according to Matt Eastwood, the group vice president of enterprise platforms at IDC. But the sheer number of VMs will place an added burden on systems management, which has yet to catch up with the myriad challenges of managing virtual and physical systems.

Moreover, users continue to express concern about the commitment of application vendors, particularly SAP and PeopleSoft, to support virtualisation. Many said that when there is a problem in a virtualized environment., application providers tend to hide behind virtualisation vendors. To investigate a problem, an application vendor will tell an IT shop it must uninstall the application from its virtual environment and move it to a physical setup to isolate the fault. This process is a big time suck and appears to be a major factor slowing down the movement of production applications to virtual systems.

Bruno Janssens, an enterprise architect at Hartford Financial Services Group said he pressures his vendors to support virtualisation, but it's a slow process. Older versions of Oracle and BEAWebLogic are not supported. He said they also run into problems with government regulations that certify certain platforms for financial modeling applications but not others. "Government regulations don't recognise virtual systems," he said.

"The problems are not completely solved," said Gary Chen, IDC's research manager for server virtualisation software. "The big apps vendors are still concerned about whether a virtualised platform can handle the I/O performance of their application." His colleague Al Gillen, IDC research vice president of software cut to the chase. "The application vendors see consolidation squeezing their revenue as fewer boxes mean fewer licenses."

Meanwhile, companies well down the road of virtualisation deployment said that when a company doesn't prepare for rapid growth, internal support issues crop up. Ricky Gravely, officer, the EIS supervisor of enterprise virtual solutions at Wachovia, said the typical ratio of servers to systems administrators used to be 30 to 40 physical hosts to one administrator.. Now, with each host running multiple machines, the tasks associated with one box are greater and more complex and systems admins have to do much more.

"It's important to recognize your staff has a lot of added work," Gravely said. Whenever he gets the chance, he takes his team out for ice cream.

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