If we take a completely detached, technology-focused perspective on the subject of transitioning the data center to virtualized architecture, it might appear that the last arguments against taking the plunge have already dissolved. Utilization improves, performance may even increase, power usage decreases, dependency on larger server racks decreases and there's even a case now for security improvement.

There are several ifs that need to be considered. As too many organizations have come to realize, virtualization isn't something you can just do. One major stumbling block before companies can even get onto square one concerns ownership of resources within the company, and how people's jobs depend upon the existing physical structure of data resources.

The broader topic of virtualizing large business workloads is the topic of a panel I'll be moderating on Tuesday, November 1 at 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT, with VMware Senior Systems Engineer Stephen Shultz and Intel Mission-Critical Data Center Strategist Mitchell Shults. (You read right, Shultz and Shults.) It's a live chat, and I'd like to have you join in, especially with respect to this very topic: how to realign the organization around retooled, virtualized resources.

In a February 2010 VMware webcast, product marketing senior manager David Freidlander related a story of a customer whose key problem at the time was keeping the application teams uninformed about the fact that IT had already virtualized and pooled the servers on which their applications were running. It had gotten to the point where, in this customer's data center, the servers' names were tacked to Velcro strips, so when different app management teams (e.g., Exchange, SharePoint, Domino, SAP) came in at different times, they would be led to believe they were looking at their own exclusive boxes.

Friedlander's story did not get into detail, but if you listen to it like a detective, you might infer some startling insights:

  • Evidently the app management teams knew never to visit the same data center at the same time. You can imagine a sitcom-like situation, maybe even with Lucy Ricardo as the hapless admin, flipping the tags back and forth on the server boxes whenever a different manager looks her direction. The lack of such a situation suggests a surprisingly adept level of time management; there must be some genuine effort expended by someone to make certain none of the app managers see each other in the data center.
  • Consider the low degree of visibility any of these app managers must actually have into the performance levels of their apps at any one time, to not know their apps are being virtualized. If the organization made a move to a public or hybrid cloud, would these people even know it? Would the IT admins dress up an old, black, empty Frigidaire as a server and mark it, "Siebel Storage Array?"
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the application manager for a moment. What do you expect to see when you make your semi-annual trip to the server room to check up on performance? Smoke? Do you look for the little blinking lights, and if they're blinking really furiously, you assume things must be working a-okay and you go back to your Angry Birds?

A lot of work goes on in some organizations (especially the ones with the big white domes) to maintain the continued existence of jobs whose functions have already become outmoded. In May 2010, Gartner research VP Dave Cappuccio tackled the issue of how businesses should marshal the transition away from silos and toward business functions that align with their reworked technology functions.

In his study of organizations, Cappuccio concluded that simply realigning the org chart usually doesn't work. "What often happens is that the newly formed group is comprised of individuals from the former vertical coverage areas," he wrote, "and those individuals first assignment in the new group is to maintain their current coverage area 'during the transition.' Not surprisingly, the transition period rarely ends and IT groups find themselves with new organizational constructs still supporting the same vertical groups - with the same basic staff."

Giving a relocated manager a raise only works, he went on, in organizations whose philosophy is to tie salary together with self-worth. The solution he suggests instead is to give the existing staff encouragement and new reasons to transition themselves, to break down the silo walls from below.

"Enabling this learning - even incenting it, is a critical success factor as we move toward fully virtualized environments," the Gartner analyst says, making me wince a little with the word "incenting." "And when employees realize that their value is not only how much they know in a discipline, but how much they understand the linkages between disciplines, IT as a whole will become a much stronger organization, and more able to adapt to these changing environments."

But here's the problem as I perceive it: The structure of silos in organizations tends to reinforce itself from the top down. Application managers, and other IT positions that are dependent upon an older division of resources, are simply people who would appreciate a little job security. Buying them lunch in exchange for reading the latest white paper on virtualization performance may not be the incentive they're looking for. I've actually seen companies myself where employees are offered "trainings" on subjects that essentially boil down to why your job's eventual elimination is a good thing. I can just picture the CIO's subordinates gathered together in the projection room now, watching some training film styled like a Brittanica Films release from the 1960s on proper oral hygiene, with a title something like, "Virtualization is Good for You!"

So is there an obvious solution to the unsinkable silo problem, or do analysts simply drum up the "better education" theme because time is running out and they have to post their blogs before lunch? Let's talk about this in comments, and let's also talk more about it on Tuesday afternoon with our experts panel from Intel and VMware. I'll see you online.