Dive into the virtual world

The market for virtualisation is still very nascent in India. Nevertheless, the technology is driving major enterprises in adopting it as a means to manage their IT infrastructure and hence enhance resource optimisation. The benefits of a virtualised environment that promises to unlock much of the underutilised capacity of existing server architectures is slowly dawning upon IT managers and they are starting to consider it as a viable option.

Server Virtualization in retail

With the economic slump now slowly becoming a thing of the past, the retail sector is now opening up to new ideas of revamping themselves. But when it comes to IT spending, the figure is still relatively less. The slowdown has had an adverse impact on the overall IT spending with many retailers shelving their expansion plans and keeping major IT investments on hold to avert a similar kind of a catastrophe in future. However, virtualisation vendors look up to this sector as a very important vertical in terms of deploying its Server Virtualization solutions.

“Retailers are adopting virtualization, a trend that is visible in the last 12 months. Though the scope is moderate and as of now limited only to data centre servers, the adoption can be on a rise with advancements of security features,” says Arun Gupta, CIO, Shoppers Stop.

“Indian retailers are quite aware of the Server Virtualization concepts and benefits out of it. We have seen Indian retailers adopting Server Virtualization though they have not gone full throttle like some of the other industries which are now looking at transitioning from Server Virtualization 1.0 to a Private Cloud kind of environment,” comments  Vivek Sehgal, Product Specialist - Server Virtualization and Cloud Computing, Citrix.

 One of the reasons that Sehgal cites as to why retailers are going slow in adopting it is the fact that quite a lot of their infrastructure is in distributed retail chains across the country. The centralised infrastructure is primarily SAP and they are traditionally reluctant in virtualising SAP servers for their I/O (Input/Output) intensive nature. “Apart from this, the infrastructure servers for retail industry are pretty limited. So the impact of virtualising the same may be relatively less as compared to other verticals where there are a lot of servers in use,” he adds.

But Seema Ambastha, Director-Technology, VMware India has a different tale to tell. “The retail industry is poised to grow and is going to take centre stage when it comes to IT adoption. In fact, they have been early adopters of many other technologies in the past. There are a lot of constraints on how companies use IT. But, virtualisation will bring a lot of relevance in resolving many such issues. With virtualisation, you happen to remove the redundancy, optimise your present infrastructure and get reliability, availability, scalability and performance at a much better price point,” she opines.

Virtual servers v/s  physical servers

‘To do more with less’ is the directive from the management of any organisation today and Server Virtualization happens to fulfill this to the core. Cost saving, whether it is in terms of power, operational costs or better utilisation of datacenter space, is best addressed by a virtualised environment and this is where it scores higher than a physical server.  “Cost is always in focus and we keep reviewing new opportunities and technologies that help us keep cost under control. Server Virtualization helps save cost when implemented with high levels of virtualisation, typically 12+ virtual servers per physical server,” explains Gupta.

“The percentage reduction of expenditure will however depend on a lot of factors like the number of servers virtualised, kind of IT infrastructure used, kind of consolidation ratios achieved in the Server Virtualization project, etc,” reminds Sehgal.

But, aren’t there any security issues associated? Ambastha is quick to point out that security may be a big impediment when one talks of cloud computing but there is nothing to fear in a virtualised environment. “In fact, to avoid fears of losing data into wrong hands, we do offer security solutions along with the virtualisation solution to keep the data, applications and the endpoint secured,” comments Ambastha.

From the licensing perspective, more and more software OEMs, like Microsoft, Symantec etc, are going the extra mile to make their licensing policies very transparent in a virtualised environment. Sehgal offers to give a small advice here. “Since work is still in progress in this area for a lot of software OEMs, it would be always advisable to have a word with the software OEM in regards to the licensing policy when putting their software in a virtual environment.”

What is Server Virtualization?
It is the partitioning of a physical server into multiple smaller virtual servers such that each server has the capability to run its own dedicated machine. A software application is used by the server administrator to partition the server into several virtual servers. The number and identity of individual physical servers, processors, and operating systems is usually hidden from the users. Server Virtualization can be used to make more efficient use of server resources, improve server availability and disaster recovery.
Currently in India, Server Virtualization is the backbone of virtualization exercise, with desktop and storage virtualisation still in the adoption stage. The “2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud Survey”, conducted by Symantec, revealed that adoption of Server Virtualization has become widespread, with 57 per cent of Indian firms (across different verticals) implementing Server Virtualization versus just 45 per cent globally.












Challenges to its deployment

Cost ceases to be a deterrent factor anymore as apprehended by many in deploying the solution. “The ROI for the Server Virtualization project is usually less than 12 months. So, that is acceptable to most of the organisations when investing in the project,” shares Sehgal. But the fact that many applications and software are not supported in a virtualised environment is a major hurdle that comes on the way of its adoption. This prohibits many from thinking of Server Virtualization when opting for a project in their environment.

“This is why this needs careful testing before embarking on a large scale virtualisation exercise. Test and development servers are a typical starting point prior to moving to production environments. This requires working with the application providers and the virtualised environment providers to ensure that the promise of efficiency is not diluted,” comments Gupta.

Reservations, such as complexity, concentrated risk and challenges of migrating to a virtualised environment, are some other factors that might hold many retailers from taking the plunge.


Going ahead

Though IT adoption has been relatively moderate with retailers, but with Server Virtualization adoption becoming a mainstream practice, the retail vertical might catch up with the trend very soon. “Further transparency and application compatibilities of software used in retail industry in virtual environment would only fuel the adoption of Server Virtualization in retail vertical. Such a technology will also help retailers save costs for a retail chain with a number of stores,” opines Sehgal.

To sum up, the pressure on an organisation to keep down the costs will help virtualisation to grow in times to come. Also, it can prove to be yet another effective tool to beat down costs for a retailer if another slowdown happened to occur.

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