Exec calls for virtualization standards

Capital One Financial is reducing its server count even as it expands and acquires new businesses. To help make that possible, Lee Congdon, vice president of corporate technology at the US-based credit-card and financial services firm, is using virtualization in his servers and networks and piloting a database virtualization program.

Congdon's goal is to reduce technology costs and improve the IT department's ability to meet business needs. But in an interview at the IDC Virtualization Forum here yesterday, Congdon said he thinks vendors need to do more to improve the ability of users to manage virtualization technology across a corporate enterprise. He also sees a need for software vendors, from the operating system level down to the application layer, to adopt standard licensing practices that can adapt to fluid, virtualized IT environments.

You said you think virtualization is core to Capital One's development as a financial services organization. Why is that?

From a diversification standpoint, as we acquire various firms, we're going to be presented with different operating system environments, different networking environments, different networking suites and so on. I think [virtualization technology] is going to be an important foundation because it buys us time in circumstances where a specific application is ready to move over and we need to shut down that physical location, for example, or where we need to move off aging hardware or software. It also gives us better management tools and controls across the environment.

From the standpoint of cost reduction, if we can go from 50 percent to 85 percent utilization on the servers, that's free money. Another [benefit] is alignment with the business -- being able to deliver application solutions quickly when we're asked to do projects. By being able to provision [systems] more quickly and manage capacity more effectively, I believe we can also be more responsive when new business ideas come along.

You've described your IT environment as having 1,600 servers ranging from Intel-based systems through mainframes. Where were you a year ago, and what's your goal for reducing physical servers?

We are probably 30 percent of the way through a three-year plan to take those 1,600 [servers] to 1,100. In addition to that, we've made investments in storage virtualization, and we're making progress there. We're piloting database virtualization. Our networks are becoming more and more virtual to enable us to manage the acquisitions and the fact that many of the firms we bring in have different networking architectures.

How mature are virtualization technologies?

They're getting better, but we're going to need heterogonous as opposed to homogenous management and service-level tools. Right now each vendor is [individually] approaching the problem, or a part of the problem, and what I don't see us having yet are industry standard services for management across the broader virtual space, whether it's storage, processors or the network. And although vendors like IBM have today, or will soon have, end-to-end solutions for managing service levels, in general those aren't available across [products from] multiple vendors.

That seems to be the end-goal, the Nirvana -- to be able to treat an enterprise as one big virtual resource pool. Do you see Capital One heading in that direction?

It will be a while before its gets to be that simple theoretically, and under the covers it will probably never be that simple. But to the extent that we can move in that direction, that's an advantage for us. If we can think in logical terms instead of physical terms, if we can start to split our processors up across multiple sites more and more transparently, if we can start to share information with affiliates across the Web as well as across dedicated lines in more transparent fashion, all of those things will be pluses for us. I think it's going to be a while before we get to Nirvana, but steps in that direction are important.

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