Neither cloud computing nor virtual servers were intended as agents that would change traditional IT organizations, says Rachel Dines, a researcher at Forrester Research (FORR) who specializes in IT infrastructure and management. But IT organization and management issues are turning out to be nearly as important as the technology itself to making large-scale virtual-server migrations effective.
By making it possible to make granular IT resources like CPU cycles, memory, storage capacity and I/O bandwidth available to machines or software far beyond their physical space, virtualization technologies forced IT organizations to break down management silos built on those physical limitations, Dines says.
"If you think about it, it kind of makes sense to have all the system administration for a certain data center in one group defined by physical area," she said. "The first thing that happened with virtual servers is that the VM administrators had to reach beyond that geographic space and get involved with the applications and the business units they were working with."
If virtualization had stopped with a few servers, the pressure to reorganize would have stopped after enough sysadmins had learned to manage both virtual servers and how to work for more than one department at a time, says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester.
But the virtual world is a lot more dynamic than the physical one, and it crosses a lot of traditional organizational boundaries, notes Chris Wolf, research vice president at Gartner.
"Without rethinking some of that organizational structure and aligning at least some portions of itself more with the virtual infrastructure, it wouldn't be able to keep up," Wolf says.
The ROI and increase in technical efficiency is so high in the first rush of virtual-server migrations, it makes up for a lot of gaps in support and organization, Dines says. But long before say half of a company's servers can be virtualized, organizational weaknesses can slow the migration and limit the success of existing migrations.
Though virtualization and cloud are both too immature for IT to have smoothed out all the organizational wrinkles, some consistent management principles have emerged that can help you avoid trouble.
Widen your focus
It seems simplistic, but shifting a server from physical to virtual eliminates its allegiance to the physical box on which it lives, Wolf says. That means sysadmins can change their focus from the boxes in their immediate area to all the virtual servers handling load balancing, or security duties, or all the VMs running applications for a particular business unit.