The Virtues of Selling Virtualization (the 11th Flattener)
Since my last blog discussed the world of virtual trade shows and mentioned VMware, let’s talk about this phenomenon of Information Technology (IT) virtualization and some basic elements of how it should be marketed and sold.
To me, this has become an important topic and one that I’ve spent some time on, consulting on virtualization and cloud computing. For those that read Thomas Friedman’s, The World is Flat, you might recall that “Virtual” was mentioned as part of his 10th Flattener. But what he was really referring to is what I wrote about in my last blog – virtualizing meetings and trade shows.
On the other hand, and in the context of this blog, virtualization is a set of techniques, processes and a good dose of software applications that allow IT departments to slice and dice their computer hardware (primarily computers and servers) and data storage into smaller, separately managed logical servers and resources. To the average non-techy, this is about as intuitive as learning Greek.
So I won’t discuss the How of doing this, but rather the Why. The Why is simply about being able to squeeze more out of your compute and data storage purchases by optimizing their capabilities. Sounds easy enough. And of course the followup question is ‘why doesn’t what we already do work as well as this technique’ - that being the purchase of one software server license per physical server. Let’s just say that this technology and its best practices have really matured in the past few years, and until now IT has not really felt safe in fully deploying virtualization to run the core business. That is changing, and in the land of IT today virtualization provides a good deal of cost savings, while preserving and extending your previous investments in technology. This is a key result in a world economy that values economizing like never before.
Virtualization can also be an important ingredient and is frequently associated with the infrastructure behind cloud computing. There’s a lot being discussed on this subject and some actual business and products being developed and road-mapped. But I’ll address the marketing and sales behind this in another blog - since this is a much broader topic. But suffice it to say, that cloud computing and virtualization often appear together in the same context.
There are a few major players in this arena, VMware and Citrix (through its acquisition of Xen) are the big ones. VMware is the most dominant commercial vendor maintaining an approximate 55% market share, while Citrix had its roots in the open source arena and has maintained a smaller market share. Microsoft, Sun and others have valuable components and versions of their own that work primarily with their operating systems. And of course there is a substantial partner, channel and vendor ecosystem that has developed for this market.
Since what goes on at the top of these companies is so critical, part of the sales and business maturity process have become evident in the leadership of these businesses. VMware, which was owned and now spun off by EMC, recently went through a change at the top, putting in place Paul Maritz, a mature and seasoned veteran of building organizations by replacing one of the original founders, Diane Greene. Why…EMC still owns a majority of stock of VMware (was about 90%) and those shares will likely become more valuable in an untethered company, one that is not “totally” beholden to EMC technology. Xen has been managed the last few years by Peter Levine, an old colleague of mine via a UNIX International committee in the early 90′s and a veteran of Veritas (now Symantec), and Peter put his stamp of leadership on Xen by selling it to Citrix – and remaining with Citrix as their EVP. Why…Citrix is not only a much larger company but is one that is highly complimentary to Xen, providing much of the software that allows us to create virtual conferences and connect to our remote compute resources (Go ToMyPC).
Since I’ve attended both physical (real and in-person) trade shows and events and User Group meetings from VMware, as well as virtual trade shows and on-line webinars, I’ve been impressed by their attempts to put virtualization into a decent ROI sale context. This is one of the top two keys to selling most technology and I would say that VMware has created a reasonably well-refined ROI template that you can use to judge cost-benefits.
However, I think the ability to sell virtualization’s ease of management, and safety and reliability have been less evident. Indeed, VMware has to rely too often on its partners to supply necessary “fail-safe” technologies (backup, disaster recovery, etc) to complement its offerings. True, this is changing, but it has delayed virtualization’s adoption. When I started in this business, it was all about how to get to five 9′s (99.999% uptime), which equates to 5+ minutes of downtime per year as memory serves. Virtualization will surely head further upstream in the eyes of CIO’s with more fully demonstrable and certifiable studies of uptime, MTBF (mean time between failures) and the many other quality metrics associated with running a data center. And these measures of reliability have to be associated with the level of training, processes, and other investments in order for the virtualization vendors to make a fully vetted case and to ensure a faster sale’s close cycle. One suggestion - try giving us a chart with the number of 9′s versus the level of effort (time, money and people) that I have to put in to get to that level of uptime. That is the true benchmark of ROI vs. safety that will propel and sell this technology that much faster.
Another – try adding in elements of data storage and desktop virtualization into a comprehensive ROI model and safety equation, and maybe throw in a chart on application virtualization.
There’s clearly a lot that has evolved in getting wider spread sales and adoption of virtualization, but there’s still a lot to be improved upon. I’d love to hear your thoughts on some additional ideas.