Mission-critical apps virtualization: How to maximize gains

Enterprises are virtualizing more and more of their workloads. The benefits are well-known: consolidation and infrastructure efficiency; faster provisioning of applications and better configuration management; universal high-availability services; automated resource optimization, and dynamic scaling of applications.

However, even as businesses realize these benefits, many are lagging in transitioning their tier 1 applications--the mission-critical apps that could benefit the most from virtualization.

"What we find is that customers virtualize anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of their estate before they come to their business critical apps," saidParag Patel, vice president of alliances at VMware, though he notes that the majority of VMware customers are well over 50 percent virtualized at this point.

Virtualizing tier 1 apps is a critical step toward the cloud
"Virtualizing tier 1 applications is critical to the success of a private cloud," Gary Chen, research manager for Cloud and Virtualization System Software at IDC, writes in a white paper:

"To deliver the most value, the private cloud must encompass the majority of workloads already in use and reduce the number of fragmented resource silos that lie outside the cloud. This allows organizations to take advantage of the economies of scale for optimal infrastructure efficiency. In addition, many of the advanced features of the cloud that transform applications from static entities into dynamic IT services will be the most value to mission-critical, complex applications. For example, a simple print server will probably not benefit greatly from dynamic scaling features, but a critical customer-facing Web application would benefit greatly."

In many ways, virtualizing your business is a three-step process (with lots of mini-steps along the way). In general, Patel notes, businesses start their virtualization journey with IT assets and departmental servers. These businesses are seeking to consolidate infrastructure and to reduce Capex in favor of Opex.

The second step involves a focus on business production, as the business takes its business-critical assets and virtualizes them. The final step is automation, which is about leveraging virtualization for an autonomously managed and scalable infrastructure that Patel terms "Cloud-era Architecture" and IDC's Chen calls "Virtualization 3.0."

"The future enterprise cloud is a fully virtualized data center," Chen writes. "It is driven by server virtualization, but in tight concert with storage, network and I/O virtualization. Virtualization will abstract the infrastructure and present it as a service to application owners (infrastructure as a service).

The cloud can offer applications uniform and universal infrastructure services, such as on-demand provisioning, automated release cycles, dynamic scaling and high availability/disaster recovery (HA/DR). Enterprises may also tightly couple an application runtime environment with this virtualized infrastructure to create a platform as a service offering.

As virtual servers will explode in number and far outstrip physical servers, a Virtualization 3.0 data center will have a very intelligent management layer that will automate most tasks through a policy-driven, service-oriented approach."

Considerations for virtualizing tier 1 applications
Even so, it's not particularly surprising that businesses are cautious when it comes to their tier 1 applications. The applications themselves are often the most complex and most critical to a business and questions around stakeholder buy-in, architecture, and ISV support and licensing must be addressed before taking the plunge. Unlike Tier 2 applications, which can usually be virtualized in a self-contained manner, your Tier 1 applications touch on many people, processes and technologies.