At Nemertes, our research shows that enterprise IT is very interested in consolidation of applications and devices into fewer boxes, especially for branch operations: the branch in a box (BiaB). Concurrently, virtualization has dramatically increased consolidation options. Consolidation done well has real benefits, including: reduced cost, streamlined operations and reduced footprint (power, heat and rack space). It's quite attractive -- and seemingly straight-forward -- to fire up your hypervisor, load up guest operating systems and run your IP PBX, e-mail server, file/print server and even your content management and Web servers all on one box.
This topic takes me back to 1993 when I was a systems engineer at Netrix where we consolidated and integrated packet, circuit and frame into one box. Unfortunately, it was the equivalent of a refrigeroven: a consolidation that couldn't keep food cold enough to prevent spoilage and wouldn't get food hot enough to cook thoroughly. Either way, users (and investors) experienced great intestinal discomfort!
I mention this historical anecdote since the refrigeroven risk is very high for BiaB and not surprisingly, most vendors only focus on consolidation benefits and not consolidation risks. So, how do you prevent buying refrigerovens for your branch? Well, one approach is to focus on PASS: Performance, Availability, Simplicity and Security.
Performance: In the virtual world it's much harder to measure, predict and control application performance. It's a zero-sum gain where applications are vying for the same resources: CPU, memory, I/O and storage. Predictable performance is particularly important when combining real-time applications (voice and collaboration) with non-realtime applications (e-mail, content management, etc.). Make sure your vendor can guarantee that the performance in the virtual world will match your physical world SLAs.
Availability: In a BiaB all your eggs are in one basket. If the e-mail server is down, you won't be able to call the help desk since most likely the IP PBX is down too. However, one of the great virtues of virtualization is the ability to quickly move virtual machines for restoration of services to either a backup box and/or a backup facility. The bottom line is that planned correctly a virtualized BiaB can improve your availability; planned poorly you're going to have a mess to clean up.
Next week, we'll focus on simplicity and security. Unlike the refrigeroven where the risk is mild intestinal discomfort, the risks in a virtualized BiaB are far greater; at least viral and potentially deadly (to your business that is).
This story, "What's in Your Refrigeroven? " was originally published by Network World.