Managed Service Providers and Virtualization

I’ll begin this article by creating a fake company, BadDesign Inc. This company has 85 users and currently run 8 servers. The mix includes Microsoft OS, Mac OS X and some Unix boxes. Altogether there are six servers running in a poorly ventilated room. The small owner of BadDesign is from the old school of networking and has no interest in Managed Services. He once heard about it and sarcastically replied “and I own the Brooklyn Bridge!” Mr. Russell believes in the break/fix model. “Why must I pay for something that works all month? he asks with a feral growl. “I’ll pay if it’s broken”. What Mr. Russell ignores is the amount of downtime whenever that happens. Plus, most of the time he can’t locate the Mac guy. “I should have never used that silicon brain!” And “the Unix guy acts like he’s the President”. “I’m going crazy with these computer guys, it’s like they own my company!” Unfortunately this scenario is played out everyday, somewhere in the world.

My question is, how do you possibly sell Mr. Russell on virtualization? Do you educate him on the benefits of managed services first and then gradually introduce virtualization? The MSP has an undaunting task of converting the small business owner to paying for what is really intangibles. Education to me is the key to success. In my Security + classes one of the major tenets of network security is executive buy-in. The average SMB owner cannot be approached with technologies, he has to be placed in his comfort zone, profitability. Deposit a little, withdraw a lot.

Virtualization is the MSPs golden child. Knowledge of the technology will go a long way in winning over the client. The very first thing that needs to be addressed is the misconception that virtualization is new. Technologies that closely resemble virtualization was common in the 60s an 70s. I could picture Mr. Russel smiling and stressing “I knew it, all these new things and we go right back to the correct way!”. When processing power increased it became less expensive to move to PC servers as  Cyber Security Strategy opposed to mainframe computing. Today’s network are victims of computer sprawl, some enterprise networks have hundreds of servers. The cost of housing, powering, cooling and maintaining these devices keep rising and rising. Virtualization gives the client the ability to run multiple servers and apps on one physical box. Due to the fact that there is a decrease in physical devices management becomes easier. The large developers have thrown money behind virtualization. Citrix buying ZenSource ($500m), Sun buying Innotek, Microsoft buying Softricity and Kidaro and VMWare. It is reported that VMWare has the majority of the market with their VMWare ESX Server. With Windows Server 2008, Microsoft is offering a new Windows Server Virtualization option. Windows 2008 Hyper-V allows you to run multiple servers inside one physical box resulting in more efficient use of hardware and administrative services. One major requirement is an x64 based processor.

I believe that if the MSP at first educates him/herself on the basic workings of virtualization it will require very little convincing. Just the demonstration of having multiple operating systems functioning independently on one physical machine is a great sales pitch. What is outstanding is that you can actually remove the physical server and yet have the same service. Mr. Russell can be converted. Like Miss Lanowitz, I totally agree that virtualization is the technology of the 21st century. Maybe by the next 25 years we will see virtualized community servers running movies, radio stations, complete classrooms, the potential is limitless.

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