Virtualization is everywhere. It's the hot ticket in town. Sales pitches offer virtual solutions as the new pixie dust that makes technology infrastructure better, cheaper, easier, greener and faster. What can get confusing is that most virtualization products highlight the letter "X" or "V." One of them is VMware. Got that?

Seriously new virtualization products are being installed across America. Many organizations are trying to define terms or build a comprehensive virtualization strategy. In the simplest form, virtualization is the partitioning of physical hardware into a logical view to better use available resources. For instance, server virtualization is the masking of server resources -- including the number and identity of individual physical servers, processors and operating systems -- from server users.

Although virtualization technology has been around on mainframes for decades, there's no doubt that new products offer substantial benefits to the enterprise. Virtualization is also an important step toward private cloud computing. So here's a primer of opportunities, challenges and recommendations as you progress down that virtual yellow brick road.

Opportunities

Many governments are consolidating data center servers to save money, and server consolidation efforts should consider virtualization based on hardware cost, space utilization and energy consumption. For example, the average enterprise server is about 10 percent utilized. If virtualization can enable a 10-to-1 consolidation of servers into a virtualized environment, the savings can add up. Some predict that virtual machine technology will soon offer a 60-1 ratio of virtual machines to a host.

Other benefits include: virtual server builds that can be replicated in hours instead of weeks, improved control of system environments for operating system upgrades and configuration changes, ease of administration, improved application performance, easier implementation of disaster recovery and system backups, and overall improvement in availability and reliability of well designed systems environments.

In Michigan, we've made "virtual by default" our new standard for all incoming server installs. We've also established an organizational center of excellence for server virtualization. This lets us provide a standardized virtual server environment to government agencies at lower cost and also examine our existing installed base for opportunities to migrate servers into a virtualized environment.

Challenges

Many challenges surface while migrating from traditional computing environments. Ensuring the mobility of virtual machines puts requirements on the underlying server CPU architectures, networks and storage. Often, new tools and contractual help are needed to migrate into a virtualized environment.

Licensing can also get tricky. Licensing rules for applications, development tools, data management tools and operating systems often make a virtual server environment costlier than you might expect. For example, Oracle database licenses can cost much more if you're not careful.

Your security analysis of a potential migration should ensure that legal mandates for the separation of duties and data are maintained. Government agencies may best share virtual environments when their security needs (e.g., access controls) are similar. For example, criminal justice agencies like state police and correctional facilities have different security needs than the education community.

Recommendations

If you're feeling lost, I suggest taking an hour of free training on virtualization at the Discover Virtualization Center by Nelson Ruest, Microsoft senior enterprise IT architect. He explains virtualization technology and compares products.

Second, assemble a virtualization team. Creating a center of excellence will build expertise and momentum while standardizing virtual environments. Ensure that your cross-functional team has timely representation from across the enterprise, including infrastructure areas, security and application support for testing. Consult experts, as needed, to supplement the team and build a successful strategy.

Finally, jump in and start with a proof of concept or pilot. Virtualization is the new normal. It's time to engage.

 

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.


He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Michigan.gov Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.


NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006