Virtualization Pro

Nov 11 2009   10:36PM GMT

Does virtualization really reduce administrator headcount and workloads?

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

One benefit of virtualization that is often stated is that by virtualizing you will reduce the number of administrators needed to manage your server environment. I heard this first hand years ago when we were looking to do a server virtualization project and I was skeptical as to how that would be possible. VMware itself touts this as a benefit of virtualization on their cost savings webpage stating the following:

VMware shifts the paradigm from managing “the raw ingredients of IT”, i.e. component-level infrastructure management, to cloud-based delivery of IT services. This dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of managing IT. VMware vSphere and the VMware vCenter Product Family simplify tedious day-to-day tasks such as provisioning, hardware maintenance, patching and capacity, incident, and performance management through policy-based automation. As a result IT resources and budgets can be shifted from tactical maintenance to strategic projects and innovation that dynamically respond to and ultimately drive the business.

In my experience virtualization has not reduced administrator headcount at all. Why is that? Because the number of servers that we started with before virtualizing was about the same after we virtualized. The only difference being instead of 80 or so physical servers we now only have about six physical servers that were still running those 80 original servers as virtual machines. As a result we may have less physical servers to manage but we now have more operating systems to manage. In addition to the 80 original ones we had six new ones as a result of the ESX hypervisors. So there may be less hardware maintenance which is very minimal to begin with but there are more operating systems to patch and maintain.

One side-effect of virtualizing is VM sprawl. since VMs are so easy to create you tend to quickly end up with a lot more of them after you virtualize. Deploying a new physical server requires money, resources and data center space; deploying a new virtual machine only requires a few mouse clicks. Because of this you usually end up with even more servers to manage after you virtualize then you would have had if you had not virtualized.

When implementing virtualization, existing Windows or Linux system administrators tend to gain the additional duties and title of VMware administrator. When this happens their workloads will usually increase with the additional responsibilities of maintaining the virtual host servers.

So does virtualization really reduce the workload of administrators and allow companies to reduce headcounts? Maybe in some cases when consolidation is incorporated with virtualization projects, or highly-automated tools are put in place to manage the environment. But I’m guessing that there are not many companies that have let people go after virtualizing or have provided existing administrators with lots of extra free time.

Readers, what’s has been your experience, has virtualization reduced your headcount or reduced your server administration? Let us know in the comments.

3  Comments on this Post

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  • JulesLister
    In my expereince it rarely happens that there is less management due to the planning stage not being correctly done. Most implementations are put in quickly as the technology makes this very easy to do. Unfortunately most then start getting sprawl and other issues that then take as much management, often times more. One of the disadvantages of the virtual world is that most companies actually end up with more Servers than they started with to manage as it becomes so easy to create new ones for development, UAT and so forth. More thought in the planning stage would ease this burden.
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  • Langonej
    Eric, I agree that VM sprawl doesn’t help companies reduce their workforce. However, operational expenses are often not reduced when systems are virtualized not because of VM sprawl but instead because of the lack of popularity around workforce reduction. When discussing virtualized solutions with executives, one of the early questions that must be addressed is a corporate officer’s willingness (or lack thereof) to reduce the workforce which will lead to an ultimate realization of cost savings. Many organizations will simply repurpose their employees or use the same server team to manage the virtual infrastructure, even if an economy of scale could be realized to reduce the workforce. This cartoon by KAL [IMG src="" alt="The Economist. KAL." /] ...sums up one of the reasons why workforce reduction is not popular at the moment. While the economy starts to recover from this recession, laying people off, which would contribute to a growing unemployment rate, is not valued as a viable option. Reducing the workforce today could help reduce current payroll expenses but the potential burden on our economy of another unemployed or underemployed worker remains real. VM Sprawl and increased number of VMs can be readily corralled through the use of third-party tools, implementation of proper change management procedures prior to implementation, and an increased use of intelligent automation. Third-party tools will not make putting more people out of work a popular decision. Cheers, - Jason
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  • Roidude
    I have not seen customers reduce head count as a result of virtualization, however, I have seen many significantly scale their operations without adding the head count that would have been required in a physical environment. You point out some of the increased complexity that can result from virtualization from additional objects to manage. This needs to be counterbalance by implementing virtualization as an enterprise replacement of a physical infrastructure, rather than as yet another technology layer. Taking a strategic enterprise approach with utilization of complimentary storage, networking, compute & management technologies (i.e. UCS, LCM, Hyper9, etc.) will absolutely enable significantly more IT staff efficiency.
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