Virtualization Journey Stages

In my previous post I talked about what are the key elements that drive the adoption of VMware virtualization technology in our customer base.

After looking at dozens of customer journeys directly and  indirectly through various customer proxies (Sales Account Managers, VMware Consultants and Technical Account Managers (TAM), etc) we find that customers are in one of three stages that we are going to call:

  • IT Production
  • Business Production
  • ITaaS (IT as as Service)

There is also a stage zero where companies just experiment with the technology. I am not going to address this phase here. I am concerned with projects that take virtualization into production like with all the customers we interviewed in the journey project.

The chart show all key elements for adoption: Sponsorship/ownership, Confidence and Value. These evolve pretty significantly over time with two major inflection points along the way.

Each of these three stage is worth its own post. In this article I will address how the journey evolves at the high level.

IT Production

This is the Cost-Efficiency phase, building the core technology and skills base by virtualizing IT-owned applications, and benefiting from the value of server consolidation.

In the IT Production phase, IT organization virtualize what they own. In fact at this stage it is not really a matter of sponsorship, it is more matter of ownership. They are comfortable with the technology from previous experimentation or deployments and they are now ready to virtualize the applications where they don’t need to ask permission to the business.

At this stage, confidence can be characterized as reactive. The team reacts to a business trigger such as hardware refresh or data center consolidation by using virtualization technology. They typically deploy the VMware hypervisor and the core management platform and they start virtualizing the low hanging fruits: File,Print, Web servers, domain controllers, Test and Development servers. At this stage they are building up their virtualization skills. They don’t tackle applications that are perceived to be riskier or that require them to fight tricky political and cultural battles. Just not yet.

The predominant value proposition in this phase is consolidation of IT infrastructure to save on hardware, space and cooling. Customers also end up with some nice by-product and capability such as faster provisioning, a better storage infrastructure (required to deploy VMotion and other useful virtualization features). This creates the technical and knowledge platform to target more interesting applications and for future growth.

Business Production

The Quality of Service phase, tackling business applications (such as Microsoft Exchange, SAP, Oracle Apps, Databases etc) while adopting more of the VMware product stack (such as DRS, SRM or View) with a rapid switch of the value proposition towards better SLAs, business continuity and overall quality of service.

This is a major chasm that customers have to cross on their way to high level of virtualization penetration. I will probably spend multiple articles on this phase in the future, addressing triggers, obstacles, best practices and examples. This is just a quick summary.

In the Business Production phase, the IT organization which is driving the virtualization agenda needs to find new level of sponsorship for the journey to progress. They have virtualized all the low hanging fruits, everything that they owned. Next step: business applications.

To do so, they now need to get the “Application Owner” on board. Application owners bring about new concerns besides saving money by consolidating servers. They care about performance, lowering risk, quality of service, time to market for new versions of the application, business continuity, planned and unplanned downtime. This is why every single customer we talked to who is in this phase learned how to address these concerns by painting a different value proposition than just server consolidation. They use VMware product features such as SRM, High Availability (HA) and Fault Tolerance (FT) to provide better quality of service (and performance) for their business applications running in a virtual environment.

Confidence can be characterized as selective at this stage. The team carefully selects the first applications to virtualize based on a path of least resistance for their organization. “Do I have a good relationship with that application owner?, “Do I have skills to virtualize the application in question?”, “What are the risks associated with virtualizing it?”, “What are the risks associated with NOT virtualizing it?”, “Does the ISV support the application in a virtual environment?”, “Is there a compelling reason to virtualize this particular app (lack of HA, deploying a new version, non-satisfactory uptime…)?”…

Often the seed for virtualizing a business application is planted when a new version is being developed and tested. This process may already be happening in a virtual environment and when the app is going into production, deploying it on a physical server introduces a risky architectural discontinuity. It often makes sense to just leave it running in a virtual environment and take it into production.

After the first couple of business applications are successfully virtualized things get easier, the confidence grows fast and soon the team is ready to take on most business applications. Evangelizing the success and the business value achieved is a critical success factor in this stage. We found that customers do very creative things to make this happen. I will share some of these stories in the upcoming posts.

In this phase the predominant value proposition is quality of service along pillars such as business continuity, lower downtime risks, faster provisioning, time to market and so on. It is actually pretty interesting how dramatic is the change in the type of value people associate with virtualization as they make the transition from IT Production to Business Production. More on this below.

Virtualization First Policy

Virtualization First” policy refers to an IT mandate by which the VMware-based virtualized environment become the default deployment model. Physical servers are only provisioned on an exception basis and only when there is a strong technical or business justification.

Many of the customers we interviewed have such a policy in place but there are differences in when they put it in place and how well they enforce it.

Some customers put this policy in place very early but they don’t enforce it very well and it is pretty easy to make the case for getting a physical server.

Other customers, put this policy in place for the type of applications that they have experience virtualizing at any of the three stages. In fact, the ability to enforce this policy is highly correlated to IT confidence and maturity around VMware technology.

Some other customers put the policy in place after successfully virtualizing few business applications. At that point virtualization tend to get on the radar of higher level of management in the organization and in the same way as increased confidence influences their ability to enforce the policy, increased level of sponsorship provides even better teeth.  When the sponsorship is at the highest level (such as in the ITaaS Phase), that is the ultimate enforcement and empowering function.


In the IT as as Service phase, virtualization is just part of what IT does. Everything new is deployed on virtual, and the value is all around time to market, process automation, and ultimately business agility.

In this stage, the sponsor for the virtualization journey is all the way tot the top of the organization (typically the CIO). Tracking the value delivered over time raised the visibility of the virtualization journey and it is now a top initiative for the CIO, sometimes with MBOs associated to virtualization penetration and speed of adoptions for the CIO’s reports.

Confidence is very high. Most of the product stack has been adopted, including SRM, DRS, Lab Manager, HA, FT and so on. The virtualization team is often folded back into the core server team as virtualization is just part of what IT does.

At this stage organization are looking to scale their virtualization effort so that they can in turn scale the associated benefits that come from process automation, better resiliency, and increased quality of services.

Some customers refer to this state as their “internal cloud” when resources can be allocated on demand where and when needed. IT is nimble. Their credibility has improved throughout the journey and (in their own word) their quality of life is better. They don’t obsess about hardware failures because they know they can move the impacted VMs around. They use DRS to automatically increase resource allocation on the fly. They have a Disaster Recovery (DR) strategy or even a complete solution in place. They are looking at or implementing their desktop virtualization roadmap.


These are the three main stages that characterize most customer virtualization journeys we have seen: IT production, Business Production and ITaaS.

The adoption is driven by IT confidence, level of sponsorship and tracking the business value delivered by each project.

There is a major chasm/inflection point around the time customers move from virtualizing IT infrastructure services and tes/dev servers to their first business applications. When they do cross this chasm, the value proposition that they track, perceive and sell internally radically shifts from server consolidation and CAPEX savings, to better quality of service, OPEX savings and better business continuity.

What’s Next

In the next few posts I am going to

  • Talk more about the value path for virtualization and what is the relationship between business triggers, product functional areas, capabilities and value
  • drill down on each phase and use specific examples to talk about obstacles, best practice, evangelization techniques and so on



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