In-Depth

From VMware to Hyper-V: Microsoft Partners Should Take a People-First Approach

Microsoft is taking an in-your-face approach to convert VMware shops to Hyper-V. When it comes to implementing a migration, though, a partner and customer say it's critical to a successful project to take time with the VMware experts on the customer's IT staff. Making sure they understand how their expertise is still valid and important makes the project go much better.

virtualization
For a taste of the current Microsoft messaging toward VMware, consider the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in July. Microsoft's competitively belligerent Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner went after VMware ESX with a dense slide.

"With Windows Server 2012 and the new Hyper-V release, this is a busy chart -- borrow somebody's glasses if you need to," Turner said. "But I need you to stay with me right here because I haven't had the opportunity to really show you, line for line, how we stack up across ESX and how we stack up [against] their enterprise-plus offerings. This is straight across with Windows Server 2012.

"When you look at it -- bam! -- logical processors per host, double. Physical memory per host, double. Virtual CPUs per virtual machine, double," Turner continued. "Just go down the list: active VMs per host, maximum nodes in a cluster, maximum virtual machines in a cluster, native disk support, maximum virtual disk size...just down the list, every single one. Every single one."

While all those details surrounded the new Microsoft release, Turner argued that Microsoft is gaining share with the current release. "We've got almost 27 points of share now in virtualization. And if you look at our growth rates, we're growing at over twice the rate of VMware," Turner said. "Our momentum is picking up, and we grew it at such a rate that they lost share...this past quarter."

He ended his VMware attack with another Microsoft sales talking point: "We're still a third [of] the price, and I don't know of any customer that doesn't want to save money."

Switching Success Stories
It's a safe bet that the Microsoft field is also doing its best to encourage any uncertainty VMware customers might have about the shakeup of VMware management, in which CEO Paul Maritz moved to a chief strategist position at parent company EMC Corp. while Pat Gelsinger slid in from the EMC executive side to take over VMware. That move was announced by VMware amid very strong financial results in late July and takes effect Sept. 1.

Programmatically, Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft Server and Tools Business, launched a Hyper-V Switch Program at WPC for partners to move customers off VMware. "As part of this program, you'll get tools, resources and guidance to take the risk out of these migrations. So, we think this next year is going to be a year for us collectively to push this significantly, and we're going to put all of our might behind this program," Nadella said.

He also mentioned two early switch success stories: the Pella migration with FyrSoft and a Unilever plc migration with the help of Avanade Inc.

In Pella's case, VMware virtualization had been important in helping the Pella, Iowa-based company, which sells windows and doors, survive during the housing-crash-led recession.

According to Jim Thomas, director of IT operations at Pella, virtualization helped the company reduce hardware costs by retiring hardware without replacing it. In fact, an IT employee's initiative in downloading and testing a copy of VMware at home helped start the virtualization push at Pella. Eventually Pella had 85 percent of its servers virtualized on VMware.

"There are a lot of folks who have built their career on [VMware] technologies. There are people issues that come up through this."

Jim Thomas, Director, IT Operations, Pella Corp.

"We saved a lot of money on VMware," Thomas said. "There wasn't anything broken in our VMware world."

Microsoft approached him last year about a switch to the Microsoft platform, and Thomas was interested for strategic reasons.

"When it changed for us is when it became a little more than a hypervisor comparison," he said. As a company, Pella wanted to focus on supporting fewer vendor products in its environment, and Thomas was impressed with the Microsoft platform roadmap -- which would allow Pella to extend more seamlessly to a private cloud approach for the three datacenters that support its 7,100-employee operation.

The Microsoft field introduced Pella to FyrSoft, a Houston-based Microsoft partner with expertise in System Center, virtualization and the rest of the Microsoft private cloud stack.

Jeff Skelton, managing partner at FyrSoft, said his firm has been seeing an increase in interest among customers in the Microsoft virtualization and private cloud stack in the last few months.

With many of those customers, the IT department employees may not be as sold as management on the benefits of the platform change, and can be less than enthusiastic.

"We hit that often," Skelton said of VMware experts' wariness of Microsoft technologies. "There were a lot of concerns on Jim's team. They had excellent VMware experts. There were a few misconceptions about what Hyper-V could and could not do," Skelton said during a joint, in-person interview at WPC.

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A deeper issue is the expertise that employees built up on VMware. There was uncertainty about whether they would still be valued or necessary after a platform shift.

"This is a cultural impact within the IT organization. There are a lot of folks who have built their career on those technologies. There are people issues that come up through this," Thomas said. "We sat and talked to them. We would talk through why we're doing it and why do they still matter."

"This next year is going to be a year for us collectively to push this significantly, and we're going to put all of our might behind this [Hyper-V Switch Program]."

Satya Nadella, President, Server and Tools Division, Microsoft

Clear-Cut Conversion Roles
FyrSoft set up a proof-of-concept starting in late 2011 to show how the Microsoft products would work in the Pella environment. While the proof-of-concept addressed employees' technical questions and concerns, it was also a chance for them to see how directly applicable their skills would be in the Microsoft-centric virtualization world, Skelton noted.

"With Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager, they picked it up really quickly. I think the Microsoft approach and interface are very straightforward," Skelton said. "They caught on and they're managing it well."

When it came time to switch the systems over -- a huge job that involved taking about 700 VMs in the VMware environment down to about 600 VMs on 50 physical servers in the Hyper-V environment -- both organizations stayed in different lanes. The 10-person Pella IT staff focused on ongoing operations concerns, leaving the actual conversion mostly to FyrSoft.

"Because we only convert one time, my team didn't go too deep into that," Pella's Thomas said.

For the actual conversion, Skelton rated the Microsoft Virtual Machine Migration Toolkit (VMMT) -- a major feature of the switch-to-Hyper-V initiative -- as very valuable.

The VMMT is based on technology from Veeam Software, a developer of virtual infrastructure management and data-protection products. According to Microsoft, the toolkit automates manual steps in migrating VMware to Hyper-V, reducing average migration times from 10 hours per VM to about two hours each.

Skelton said the use of the toolkit took what would've potentially been a 6,000-hour job down to about one-fifth of that time. Another important feature of the toolkit was rollback capability. "If there was an issue with the Hyper-V virtual machine, we could within a few clicks revert to VMware," he said.

To Pella's Thomas, that was key. "This is very strategic to us," he said. "We were doing part of the migration during our peak season for windows and doors. We had to make sure that we had the best process and the best contingency plan."

Hyper-V and Beyond
In the end, Thomas estimates that only two or three VMs have had to be rolled back because of problems out of hundreds of migrations so far. He estimates that the entire project will be finished in the first quarter of 2013. After that it will be on to related projects that made Microsoft attractive to Pella as a private cloud vendor in the first place.

One is deploying System Center 2012 to monitor and manage the Pella infrastructure, especially through the use of the Operations Manager and Orchestrator components.

The company is also looking to upgrade System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to System Center 2012 Configuration Manager. The Pella IT department intends to start managing a wide range of mobile devices due to the upgrade, in addition to the 4,000 desktops it already manages.

One other project in the hopper is virtualizing desktops and applications and evaluating Windows Server 2012.

For Thomas, the strategic goal is to support business growth without expanding IT headcount. "We only have 10 people supporting 4,000 desktop computers and 600 servers. We expect to grow our services by as much as 25 percent over the next couple years, and we won't have to add headcount to do it," Thomas said in a prepared statement for a Microsoft case study on the migration.

Ultimately, employees came around to recognize that using the Microsoft private cloud approach actually aligned better with their skills, Pella's applications and the platforms Pella ran across the board, according to Thomas.

To get to that point, both Thomas and Skelton recommend strong communication with line-of-business IT staff during a platform transition -- good advice in any technology move. Of course, Thomas adds, IT management has to mean it and has to have credibility with IT staff: "If you don't have some trust with your team, it's going to be difficult."

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