Taming the Virtualization Beast

Updated: January 01, 2011

A key initiative in the IT industry today is virtualization.

Virtualization holds a lot of promise, - cost savings, server consolidation, and more efficient operations that will lead to higher quality of service. However, the benefits of virtualization are actually being undermined by change and configuration management issues like drift, integrity, availability, performance and sprawl.

Virtualization is taking the IT world by storm, and is spreading quickly within organizations. Yet, many organizations still aren't getting the cost and resource savings promoted by the champions of virtualization. Most organizations even struggle with achieving the same level of control in their virtual infrastructure as their physical infrastructure. One big issue is that traditional configuration change control processes don't have visibility into the virtual environment with the encapsulation of the guest systems in the black box of virtual machine. Given this, most companies have a difficult time (or don't do a good job) of addressing the management, security, performance, stability and compliance issues around the virtualization platform.

Virtualization Benefits Are Being Undermined
Recently an onsite survey of 120 network engineers, IT managers, and executives, was conducted at Interop. The survey found that 55% of respondents had more problems than benefits with virtualization.

"Virtual machine sprawl is a rising datacenter cost." -IDC
VM sprawl
is a well-publicized phenomenon actually arising from some of the benefits of virtualization. Consider that virtualization makes it easy to spin up new virtual machines, VMs can move between hosts, there is no physical network connection or box, yet it can become difficult to locate and manage them as they proliferate. VM sprawl can lead to many non-standard builds that are unaccounted for, creating both availability, performance, and stability issues as well as configuration management, security and licensing challenges.

"The benefits of virtualization are eroded when virtual machines go unchecked." -eWeek
Alongside the benefits, virtualization introduces major hazards to IT operations. The biggest problem is the very high risk of sprawl or unchecked proliferation of virtual servers.

Creating new virtual servers haphazardly can easily lead to out-of-control server sprawl. Stacking too many applications on one host can leave them competing for resources. And managing your virtual resources among your physical machines can get complicated, especially for IT staff traditionally accustomed to managing only one application per physical server.

With applications abstracted from the physical server hosting the virtual machine (VM), IT organizations must be able determine the root cause when an application stops responding. However, many do not have the visibility necessary to discover what or how their applications changed on the VMs. They can measure and report symptoms but cannot diagnose the cause.

"We do not have visibility as it stands - we're blind." -Gartner
The ease of VM deployment and features like live migration drive dynamic workload agility, but also avoid traditional safeguards like approval or procurement steps that previously ensured security,compliance, availability, performance and cost control. Traditional management tools cannot deal with this type or rate of change, so administrators lose control of VM deployment, configuration, compliance, migration, and performance. Effectively leaving the VM activity invisible to IT operations.

"A top-down, application-centric approach is needed" -FORRESTER
Business requirements revolve around the applications, not the infrastructure. To ensure transactional business applications are functioning properly in a mixed virtual/physical server environment, IT managers must take an application-centric approach to management, optimization, availability and performance. Application dependencies must be mapped and configuration changes discovered across servers and operating systems throughout the enterprise. With an application-centric approach and the proper tools to visualize changes down to the granular level, application owners and IT support teams can keep complex applications performing well, ensuring availability and stability while avoiding costly downtime.

Virtualizing IT Environments - Real Configuration Challenges
The cost savings of virtualization are offset by the challenges of managing virtualization, threatening environment stability and efficiency. Virtualization of the IT environment has real configuration challenges.

Limited Visibility into VM Content
• The VM encapsulates the guest environment turning it into black box
• Dynamic allocation of VMs skews visibility into the environment architecture and configuration
• Abundant amounts of environmental information hide real issues
• Ease of VM deployment causes uncontrolled spread of VMs
• Drift/deviation from desired configuration create risks from application to virtual infrastructure
• "Invisible" images

Limiting Infrastructure Perspective
• Separation of virtual infra from guest content drives management by VM rather than by the application
• The focus of virtualization vendors on just the virtualization platform complicates business application management for an enterprise.

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