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Cost savings for virtualizing servers not yet reality

Though you've heard for years that virtualizing servers will save money, Jon Toigo argues that the cost of virtualization hasn't lowered.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: Fibre Channel technology is alive and kicking:

If you are reading this, your kids (or your neighbor's kids) probably just re-entered school for a new, exciting year of learning. Those who aren't cut out for algebra, geometry, trigonometry or some other hardcore ‘rithmetic will end up in "business math." And while you mathletes might write it off as simple stuff, there sure seems to be a lack of basic economics skills among IT planners.

Since server virtualization reared its head back in the early Aughties, I have read about ways virtualizing servers could save us money in IT. First, it was the cost savings from consolidating a bunch of little servers, each running one app, into a fewer number of servers running many virtualized apps. That was going to save a ton of money just on reduced hardware and software spending. But with increased hypervisor license fees, the need to add 7 to 16 more I/O ports per server, the need to load up with faster processors, more cores and more memory, and to layer in some flash in the mix, high-end servers have a price tag that make IBM mainframes look like a bargain.

Okay, so the Capex math didn't quite add up. But we could depend on those cost savings for administration -- the Opex savings -- they said, referring to the smaller number of IT staff you would need to retain, feed, clothe and ensure a highly virtualized and agile data center. Virtualization supposedly would automate and simplify everything so much that a half-baked virtualization administrator with a $25,000 certification from VMware could do the work of an application administrator, server administrator, storage administrator, network administrator, disaster recovery planner, data security planner, data manager and archivist, and basic electrician. Businesses could finally say goodbye to those IT fat cats and domain experts: Virtualizing servers would flatten the IT hierarchy once and for all.

As it turned out, the wonderful technology of virtualization may have hidden certain complexities, but it didn't improve the manageability of either infrastructure or data. It did displace talent in some IT shops, replacing experienced staff with virtualization school drones, many of whom have no idea about IT outside the knowledge imparted in VMware school. So, troubleshooting is inefficient, metrics such as mean time to repair, administrative or logistical downtime and first fix rate are abysmal. All of this produces very unflattering Opex totals for those who care to do simple business math.

The biggest boondoggle of all has been with respect to storage. Virtualization vendors blamed all of their woes on storage from the get-go. But they did not tell any of their customers that, just over the horizon, they would need to rip and replace all existing storage infrastructure to obtain even modestly acceptable performance from virtualized application workloads.

Businesses could finally say goodbye to those IT fat cats and domain experts: Virtualizing servers would flatten the IT hierarchy once and for all.

We got that news about a year ago, whether they called it EVO:RAIL or Virtual SAN or hyper-converged infrastructure. Simple business math tells us that collectively it is going to cost companies a fortune to replace the 40 to 60 exabytes of storage deployed in data centers worldwide.

Furthermore, most of the software-defined storage (SDS) and hyper-converged infrastructure from the big virtualization vendors requires a minimum of three identical nodes per server, and a clustered server model for high availability. That means storage deployment increases to a minimum of six nodes (that's basic math for three nodes of identical storage behind each of two clustered servers or 2 x 3). That represents, conservatively, about $90,000 in SDS licenses and hardware per server for an SDS product and potentially much more for a prefabricated hyper-converged appliance. So, I guess that's what you will be doing with the huge cost savings that virtualizing servers is supposed to deliver?

Look, maybe instead of going to virtualization vendor school, we should send IT staffers back to high school business math for a refresher. Heck, they might even be able to take the course online, assuming they know how to operate a PC.

Next Steps

The impact of server virtualization on storage

What to do -- and not do -- when looking to virtualize servers

Has virtualization lived up to the hype?

This was last published in September 2015

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