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In-depth: The virtualisation channel pitch

Virtualisation has long been seen as a market that not only offers growth but provides resellers with a topical technology to talk to customers about. It has spread from servers to desktops and then beyond to become a conversation about management tools and it shows no signs of slowing down, writes Amro Gebreel.

There are disagreements perhaps about the extent to which the world has virtualised but most agree there is still virgin territory out there for the channel and even those customers that have been in the vanguard of adopting the technology still have some investments left to make.

Kevin Bland, channel director UK, Ireland and South Africa at Citrix, describes a market where many desktop virtualisation proof of concepts are coming to an end and customers will now be looking to organisations with the skills, experience and credibility to deliver company-wide rollouts, largely driven by staff introducing personal computing devices into the workplace.

Not only are those firms that have dipped their toes in the water looking to make further investment but the market for the technology is widening.

Peter Deacon, director of technology and strategy at Calyx, says that the savings associated with the cloud model are now fairly well known and the opportunities for resellers are starting to emerge at different levels of the market.

"Some organisations will insist on dedicated virtualised platforms to ensure the absolute security and data protection or others will prefer shared virtualised platforms with their cost advantages and ability to pay for the exact capacity used.  Either way, we are working with some larger organisations that have virtualised 80 to 90% of their applications and most are following suit," he says.

"This will filter down to the middle market and smaller businesses who will look to virtualisation for a more cost effective, easy and quick way of increasing or decreasing their capacity without the worry of in-house expertise. Virtualised environments enable resellers to encourage organisations to optimise their existing assets, lengthen refresh periods and increase procurement cycles. As upgrades become process-driven, companies can develop repeatable, reliable processes, reduce IT resourcing costs and ultimately pass the savings on to their customers and deliver a stronger bottom line," he adds.

So with more companies looking to roll-out virtualisation across the desktop fleet and SMEs opening up to the technology threr are clearly opportunities and luckily for the channel there are different angles to take to get a slice of the action.

Desktop virtualisation

When you talk of virtualisation to most people they think of the desktop these days probably more than the server and the opportunity for VDI is a growing one.

Richard Pegden, director of product marketing at Centrix Software, says that while while server virtualisation has become widespread within IT over the last few years, the use of application and desktop virtualisation technologies are still relatively in their infancy.

"While there are still requirements for further server virtualisation, the areas of application and desktop virtualisation offer greater opportunity for the channel. Gartner estimates that only around 1% of desktops are currently virtualised, and while desktop virtualisation will not provide a solution for every user on every desktop, Gartner does expect this figure to rise to around 10% by 2015," he says.

"Many organisations are looking at their desktop strategies because of the need to move from Windows XP (support for the platform ends in 2014).  They also need to add more agility to the way applications and services are delivered, as pressure grows to support an increasingly mobile workforce.  Many organisations currently evaluating or implementing application and / or desktop virtualisation are doing so as part of Windows 7 migration projects," he adds.

The attraction of desktop and application virtualisation is not just in terms of reducing the costs but it can help with some security issues and there are other benefits for resellers.

"Organisations will look to the channel to help them understand where client-side virtualisation can add value. We're working with a number of partners to help them build the business case for virtualisation for their customers and manage the smooth implementation of virtualisation in end-user computing environments. What is critical to the success of any desktop or application virtualisation project is that the implementation is designed and put into practice with the user in mind - unlike traditional PC desktop technologies that are typically infrastructure-led. To enable this, channel partners need a clear picture of what software is actually being used within an organisation's environment, over and above simply what is installed," he adds.

Management tools

David Cuss, director of partner sales at Quest Software, says that half of all servers are now virtualised and the remaining half will require more sophisticated management solutions for areas such as data protection, security and performance monitoring that span physical and virtual environments.

"Virtualisation resellers will have to adapt to these more complex solutions if they are to continue to grow at their previous rates," he says.

Where a lot of the management tools really come into their own is around backup and disaster recovery. It has taken a while but more customers are now realising, albeiut slowly, that you have to use specific virtual tools for an infrastructure that is different from the current physical systems.

"It is clear that enterprises are still not recognising the potential virtualisation gives to data protection tasks such as backup and replication. Indeed, in a recent survey 80% of CIOs said there was currently a minimal difference in the amount of data they could replicate between virtual and physical machines. If the channel can show its customers the greater speed and scale of replication and backup that virtualisation allows, then it can offer them both stronger data protection and a compelling reason to increase their adoption of virtualisation," says Ian Wells, director, Northern EMEA at Veeam.

The fall out of more companies moving to a virtual environment is that the questions of management will come to the fore fairly quickly as firms scramble to work out what the new landscape means for their backup and DR strategies.

"2012 could also be a year of conflicts and collaborations within organisations.  As virtualisation becomes common practice, some key questions surface, who owns the virtual data and therefore, who is responsible for backup & recovery?" asks David Blackman, general manager Northern Europe and MEA at Acronis.

"2012 is the year administrators from all sized organisations need to accept that the hybrid world is here to stay. The utopian 100% virtual network will remain a dream.  Even the most forward-thinking SMBs will be hard-pressed to top a 90% virtualisation rate. The fact is that hybrid environments will continue to flourish and we will see a shift to more vendors developing multi-hypervisor and multi-environment solutions. Companies need to make sure they have one backup and DR solution to protect their hybrid world," he adds.

WAN optimisation

Another potential conversation, which will appeal to those from a networking background, is the impact on the infrastructure.

Pierre Langlois, channel director of EMEA at Silver Peak, has already started to see WAN optimisation deployed as a virtual solution bundled with other networking equipment on various hardware platforms, including servers, blades, switches, and storage arrays.

"Channel partners with the expertise and product portfolios to facilitate this integration have a huge opportunity ahead of them in 2012," he says.

The other trend he is seeing is the role of WAN with Virtual Desktop Initiatives (VDIs), "as it ensures they work even when network quality is problematic between locations".

"Solution providers selling VDIs are therefore including WAN optimisation as part of their portfolio and building value added services around this functionality," he adds.

There is also a role for WAN optimisation between data centres to ensure bandwidth and quality are kept high.

Adam Davison, VP of sales, EMEA, at Exinda, says that a natural result of virtualisation is that it spreads a network's resources.

"As a result, the WAN has to be both fast and responsive to ensure employee productivity remains high when working remotely. We've seen strong demand for next generation WAN optimisation solutions off the back of this, this year, and we expect that demand to continue," he says.

Storage

The strains on an infrastructure don't just how up in the network but also on the storage systems and there could well be opportunities there for resellers to make some additional sales.

John Gilmartin, VP of marketing at Coraid, says that many of the benefits of virtualisation, including live migration of servers and high availability, require shared storage environments, but a very significant number of customers report that the cost and complexity of traditional SANs are ruining their business cases and slowing their projects. 

"Value added resellers can help customers overcome the storage challenge with scale out, Ethernet SANs.  With 10Gb Ethernet, customers can realise better than Fibre Channel performance at a fraction of the cost," he adds.

Managed services

There will be some customers that understand that virtualisation is the runway to taking off in the cloud, that there are flexibility benefits and cost savings to be made but simply will not have the skills in-house to handle it.

Andrew Peddie, managing director of First Hosted, said that the acroymn that resellers will start to get to know next year is Information as a Service (IaaS).

"Whilst Software as a Service (SaaS) has dominated the market to date, IaaS will become the 'next big thing' through increased adoption of cloud technology," he says.

"I firmly believe that data virtualisation will help businesses gain even more from the cloud in 2012, and vendors and other channel partners will benefit from the increased interest in easy-to-install data integration - or IaaS - tools. These integrate all the applications and data in use by businesses, allowing them to cross reference and access data from different cloud based business applications as part of their ERP systems," he adds.

The combination of IaaS and SaaS will provide a fully integrated cloud solution which allows businesses to connect applications like Facebook, SAP, Sage and Microsoft applications to list but a few and the vcirtualisation of more data applications will deliver even more operational cost savings.

If the right tools are deployed there is a chance to deliver much greater vaolue to a customer beyond just the virtualisation conversation.

Robin Webster, consultant at IT consultancy and reseller, Centiq, says that often virtualisation opportunities start with consultancies that employ assessment tools to look at customer requirements for a virtualisation proposal.

"Often the tool is discarded as soon as the proposal is written, and an opportunity for a longer-term relationship is lost. If the customer decides not to virtualise, the effort is wasted and the exercise will need repeating the next time the idea re-surfaces. Service providers should see engagements like this as an opportunity to enable capacity management, through the implementation of permanent monitoring tools, support and education," he says.

"This will enable the integrator to have regular consultation assessments to understand the potential for the next wave of virtualisation improvements. Customer and supplier will be able to have dialogue with a common understanding of the customers' workload metrics. Virtualisation, consolidation or even virtual back to physical initiatives will be the result of a joint planning process. Customers will benefit in the longer-term from making more informed decisions from metrics that are shared and understood by both parties and collected over longer periods," he adds.

Skilled approach

Whichever solution the channel pitches the key is to take a measured approach and deliver a service from the very first conversation about virtualisation.

Emmet Florish, channel development manager for EMEA at SolarWinds, says that there is undoubtedly an opportunity for the channel in the virtualisation market but customers will want to make changes confident that they will produce the savings that are promised.

"In order to develop a virtualized environment a company has to be confident that its move to the cloud will provide the appropriate savings and advantages expected. This is not just about virtualizing hardware. All aspects of a company's environment need to be reviewed: hardware, applications, software and monitoring/management tools all play a key part in a virtualization strategy," is Florish's view.

"A strong channel partner will have an insight into the multiple aspects required to virtualise this type of environment, rather than providing niche solutions which focus on only certain aspects of the network environment. Channel partners who recognize this, will be able to provide integrated solutions and bring the biggest value-add to their customers by understanding what it takes to virtualise a business environment," is the advice.

What is in store this quarter

David Galton-Fenzi, Group Sales and Marketing Director at Zycko, outlines just where he thinks the opportunities in virtualisation lie in the next few months and the rest of this year.

"The first quarter of 2012 will see the channel continue to promote solutions that allow the end user to do more with less, as the economy remains static and the euro zone continues in its struggle for stabilisation. Virtualisation technology will remain at the forefront of data centre innovation, and while we expect basic network and storage virtualisation principles to continue to do well, there are three streams that have shown early promise due to the obvious return on investment they offer.

"Resellers looking to address the recent 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) trend will profit from adding best in breed wireless virtualisation to their portfolios. Legacy microcell environments are ill-designed to cope with multiple mobile devices demanding access and user privileges. Virtualising the wireless signal allows a device to benefit from a single dedicated, robust, secure frequency channel that is accessible throughout the enterprise, letting the client device roam freely without disruption.

"Moving out of the front office and into the data centre presents further channel opportunities. One issue experienced by virtualisation adopters is the bottlenecks created by the extra data resulting from newfound hardware efficiencies. Managing the input and output of this data presented challenges that have been addressed through I/O virtualisation offered by vendors such as Xsigo. Virtualising the data allows for reductions in capital and operational expenditure, as fewer cables are required, and less money and power is spent cooling the servers. This is another area in which instant ROI can be demonstrated, making it an excellent proposition for resellers looking to offer solutions that quickly pay for themselves."


This was first published in January 2012

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