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The HP Way to Virtualization?

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Why are IT departments investing more in virtualization technologies? Simple: "cost, cost and cost," said one analyst attending a virtualization seminar at Hewlett-Packard's research facilities yesterday.

But there are learning curves involved with deploying virtualization in some IT environments; HP, like its IT services competition, has its eye on those opportunities. The IT giant used the day-long event to launch its latest consulting package, called HP Virtualization Assessment Services.

"We assess the environment, the servers and storage, and come back with a proposal," said Nick van der Zweep, HP's director of virtualization and software for business critical systems. He said that while there is growing awareness that virtualization can save on costs and resources, the evaluation program is a way to formalize the process, show what the potential return on investment is and get the projects going.

The virtualization evaluation service, due in February, could help HP open a dialogue with customers about the virtues of virtualization , especially on how it helps companies get more use out of under-used server capacity, but also how to manage any potential downside to deploying virtualization.

HP is one among a growing legion of IT providers teaming up to tout virtualization services, and other products in the process. HP rival IBM , for example, recently joined forces with Intel  to offer tools that help customers select, deploy and measure virtualized server solutions for enterprise data centers. They call their benchmarking methodology vConsolidate.

Virtualization service providers have some solid stats to help their cause. Enterprise servers are generally considered to be under-utilized, at only about 30 percent capacity on average, according to IDC. Virtualization consolidates servers into a far more efficient system, helping to ease the costs associated with managing what many companies now call "server sprawl."

About $140 billion worth of server assets go un-utilized every year, said IDC analyst Michelle Bailey at HP's virtualization briefing.

Tom Grahek, the IT director at decision management software company Fair Isaac , said he was able to transform a "fairly small data center" to a high-capacity one using HP blade servers and VMware. The original estimate for the recently completed 4,000 square foot data center in Minneapolis was that it would support 300 standard servers.

"Then we went with HP blades , which got us to over 700 servers, and when you layer in the virtual software, we're projecting about 3,500 server instances will be available," said Grahek. "We're loading up on new VMs aggressively. I get asked a lot 'Does virtualization work?' It does very well."

IDC's Bailey said 75 percent of enterprises that the research firm surveyed recently have invested in some form of virtualization or plan to in the next 12 months. IDC predicts virtualization will be a $20 billion market by 2010. The main reason for such bullish estimates is cost.

"Virtualization is an approach to pooling and sharing IT resources, not just servers and storage, but multiple assets," said HP's van der Zweep. "The idea is to get [computing] supply meeting demand and being able to dynamically allocate resources at the right time."

But there are also potential pitfalls, like manageability. "Just because you go from having 10 [physical] servers to one, you still have 10 OS's. You haven't reduced the work to maintain 10 software systems," said Rich Friedrich, director of HP's enterprise software and systems Labs. Plus, with so many instances of operating systems and applications consolidated on fewer servers, how do licensing arrangements work? It's a bubbling issue in the industry.

Bailey said HP, IBM and others have made great strides in using technologies like virtualization to help business and IT align better. But she also said there's plenty of work left to do.

"This might be maybe a 10- to 20-year mission to get to where IT and business react in unison with another," said Bailey. "We're getting there. Virtualization is really good for a dynamic organization. We couldn't [make progress] without it."