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CTO Strategies for Virtualization in Government IT (Opinion)

Opportunities, challenges and recommendations for virtualizing IT in the public sector.

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.

 

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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