Capital One Financial is reducing its server count even as it expands and acquires new businesses. To help in that effort, the credit card and financial services company uses virtualisation in its servers and networks and is piloting a database virtualisation program. In an interview with Computerworld, Lee Congdon, vice president of corporate technology at Capital One, said the company's goals are to reduce technology costs and improve the IT department's ability to meet business needs. Congdon also talked about the industry's role in spreading the technology.

Q: Why is virtualisation a core part of Capital One's IT strategy?

A: As we acquire various firms, we're going to be presented with different operating system environments, different networking environments, different networking suites and so on. [Virtualisation technology] buys us time in circumstances where a specific application is ready to move over and we need to shut down that physical location, or where we need to move off aging hardware or software. It also gives us better management tools and controls across the environment. [And] if we can go from 50 per cent to 85 per cent utilisation on the servers, that's free money. Another [benefit] is alignment with the business -- [delivering] application solutions quickly when we're asked to do projects.

Q: What is the state of your virtualisation efforts so far?

A: We are probably 30 per cent of the way through a three-year plan to [cut the company's 1,600 servers] to 1,100. In addition, we've made investments in storage virtualisation, and we're piloting database virtualisation. Our networks are becoming more and more virtual to enable us to manage the acquisitions.

Q: How mature are virtualisation technologies?

A: They're getting better, but we're going to need heterogeneous as opposed to homogeneous management and service-level tools. Right now, each vendor is [individually] approaching the problem, or a part of the problem, and what I don't see us having yet are industry-standard services for management across the broader virtual space.

Q: Is Capital One heading toward heterogeneous Nirvana -- treating an enterprise as one big virtual resource pool?

A: It will be a while before its gets to be that simple. Under the covers, it will probably never be that simple. But to the extent that we can move in that direction, that's an advantage for us. I think it's going to be a while before we get to Nirvana, but steps in that direction are important.

Q: How do you get skilled people to build and run virtualised environments?

A: I see going forward a mix of our associates, typically in leadership and direction-setting roles; vendor partners, typically in "performer" roles but with full accountability and responsibility for delivering to service levels; and then additional contractor and consultant personnel to fill in specific skill gaps.

Q: Has the licensing of virtual software been an issue for Capital One?

A: I think we can continue to manage this one-off with our key providers -- it hasn't become a burden for us as of yet doing it that way. But over time, having an industry-standard model similar to the traditional per-CPU or per-user or per-connection type of licensing model would be valuable. As we talk about being able to move applications in flight, vendors will make our job easier if they're able to provide a consistent model that we can think of as the entire set of processing services, rather than trying to slice it different ways for different vendors.