Running the show

With the march of virtualisation into datacentres, the management of networks is taking a radical turn from what they used to be. Barry Mansfield looks at these trends and how they are changing the face of datacentres in the region.

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By  Barry Mansfield Published  January 16, 2008

Datacentre managers who heralded a new age of virtualisation in 2007 now face the task of delivering the benefits they promised - something industry observers believe will be no small feat.

As projects shift from the planning phase into broader deployment, datacentre managers will need to figure out how they can manage and support the new technologies without overhauling their entire infrastructure.

It’s inevitable that the market will begin to appreciate the need for a heterogeneous virtualisation management platform

"Virtualisation is likely to stutter for a while, because it represents challenges beyond what it is reckoned to do," says Robert Whiteley, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "We'll see a bit of a virtualisation fatigue at first. Even though a lot of companies have embraced the technology and reaped the benefits on x86 servers, virtualisation forces IT heads to look at managing their environment differently."

It seems likely that virtual server management technology will become a more urgent priority for network managers, especially as VMWare faces competition in a hypervisor market that until now has included only a handful of solution providers.

With Citrix (the company acquired XenSource for US$500m back in August), Microsoft, Oracle and Sun all clearly stating their plans for virtualisation, datacentre managers will for the first time "face islands of hypervisors within their IT shops," which will have to be managed as a cohesive whole to truly cash in on the benefits of the technology, says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Hypervisor providers and management vendors alike will be focused on delivering a suitable platform on which multivendor virtual servers can be managed.

For example, VMWare snapped up virtual server management software vendor Dune Technologies in 2007, with Raghu Raghuram, vice president of products and solutions at VMware, declaring that the acquisition would give his firm "a powerful orchestration platform that will allow us to automate the entire virtual machine lifecycle from requisition to de-commissioning.

"It's inevitable that the market will begin to appreciate the need for a heterogeneous virtualisation management platform. Until now it has been possible to make do without, but we can expect that to change fairly quickly," says Williams Meertens, research director with Pulstracker Consulting. "We can also expect quite a shake-up in the management space with new, highly specialist startups emerging and the bigger players, those who haven't been doing a particularly effective job so far, looking to swoop in and acquire them.

In addition, datacentre managers are considering virtualising not only server resources, but also network, desktop, storage and application resources - which will create a need for more comprehensive management tools. But datacentre managers aren't about to replace their existing management tools, so industry observers believe vendors will have to work out how to cover more platforms and develop stanadards to help customers manage heterogeneous environments.

"It's quite likely that there will be a lot of discussion in 2008 around how to put hooks into management tools from the multiple virtual resources. Datacentre automation will then be propelled to the very top of the agenda for network managers," Meertens adds.

Indeed, datacentre managers are hoping that vendors will add more automation capabilities to their tools. With the volume of servers increasing exponentially due to virtualisation, systems administrators will struggle to keep up-to-date server and application configuration records, or to track changes manually. Acquisitions such as HP's $16bn Opsware buy and BMC's RealOps purchase in July last year could help these vendors move ahead of competition looking to not only manage but also provide automation in virtual datacentre environments.

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