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Virtualisation and vendor support

What happens when you have a problem?

Lab You may be playing around with virtualisation on the edges of your IT environment or be well down the road to making it part of the furniture. But what happens when something goes wrong and it’s not immediately obvious what the problem is?

If the issue looks as though it is related to a software application provided by a third party then it might be wise to call someone who can hopefully provide a sensible plan to get things back on track. Failing an early diagnosis, they should be able to help you escalate the issue to a more senior or technical counterpart who can take a closer look.

But the process might be about to take an altogether different course because your problem is with no ‘ordinary’ workload – it's running in a virtual environment. You may get one of two responses:

“Sorry we don’t support that particular product/release in a virtual environment.”

“Ah yes but that’s not how we recommend you virtualise that product/release, so we can’t help.”

This may be followed by some advice:

“Take the application out of the virtual environment and put it onto a physical machine using a configuration we recommend and an OS we support. If you can replicate the same problem then we’ll help. If you can’t then clearly it’s not the application causing you the problem...”

Until around 18 months ago, very few vendors supported their applications running in virtual environments. The watershed was broken by the likes of SAP and Microsoft effectively saying "OK, we’ll provide support but only if you use Hypervisor X in this particular manner".

The more cynical/battle weary/experienced/long in the tooth (choose your own label) IT professionals out there may feel as though virtualisation is just another addition to the list of excuses that software vendors have hidden behind to avoid providing support for their products.

But virtualisation might actually prove to be a boon for the support process. There are several features of the technology that should/could actually make the support process easier to administer and deliver, rather than harder.

One of the key features of virtualisation is that the workload is divorced from the underlying hardware. With the right tools it can be replicated, stored and moved around. With the right processes in place, a vendor should easily be able to ‘receive’ an image of a problematic application (bandwidth considerations permitting etc), replicate the customer’s virtual environment and collaborate with the customer to find a solution.

Being optimistic, there is no real reason why a customer-supplier relationship should not be enhanced and streamlined by the presence of virtualisation technology, instead of muddied and strained.

Back in the real world, we’d be very interested to hear about your own experiences of seeking vendor support for instances involving ‘their’ apps running in your virtual environments. Have you felt like you were talking to a brick wall, or have you been pleasantly surprised by the response and effort you have received?

As usual, we’re all ears. ®

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