Power Pack: Virtualization & Management

Ten things you always wanted to know about virtualization management

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By  Maria Medvedeva Published  April 29, 2008

The future belongs to a virtualized IT world, which functions on the basis of business processes. In fact, fifty-nine percent of European CIOs surveyed by IDG Research Services for a recent ‘CIO2CIO Perspectives' report on Optimizing Virtualization Investments indicated that their companies are actively investing in virtualization initiatives.

Additionally, they confirmed that virtualization technology is increasingly showing its influence in business-critical services. More than half those users plan to virtualize business-critical services as part of the coming year's agenda.

However, few companies are currently able to reap the maximum benefit from their investment in virtualization. According to the analysis, only one in four companies has the necessary method in place to perform an ROI assessment. To make matters worse, the majority of them struggle to understand the current performance of their virtualized environment from a business perspective. The CIOs are painfully aware of these shortcomings, and to them the solution is clear: Seventy-three percent of European IT managers surveyed are convinced that their organization must be capable of centralizing the management of heterogeneous virtualized and physical environments.

The following ten tips highlight the main concerns in the management of virtualized infrastructures:

1. Go the ‘whole hog'

Today, IT is a key catalyst to growing your business. Therefore, an IT manager should work towards establishing a management environment that can centralize the management of not only traditional physical resources but also cutting-edge virtual technology with equal efficiency. Otherwise, the company will risk establishing a separate administration with no connection to proven management processes for data centre operations. When operating in such isolation, that second world will necessitate additional expertise as well as manual correlation between the two management systems.

2. Know what's running

A well-known saying among administrators is, "If it can't be measured, it can't be managed." Without having information on the location of a virtual machine, as well as its performance and availability, efforts to ensure optimal, secure business operations can become a game of chance. The consequences of that game could be severe in terms of compliance, regulations and licensing costs.

3. Control virtual server sprawl

The irony, though slight, is undeniable: Virtualization solutions are considered a means to limit physical server proliferation, even though consolidation efforts can result in a proliferation of virtual machines and images. Consequently, due to the ease with which virtual images and machines are generated, this proliferation is encouraged. To keep up with the proliferation of servers you need a management system that encompasses high-performance discovery that discovers and depicts virtual systems as well as physical systems. These capabilities, coupled with automation, enable IT managers to keep everything in check.

4. Pay attention to differences

The opportunity to optimize hardware loads is one of the most significant drivers in the move towards virtualization, but one should never allow it to interfere with applications at the service level. Instead, selecting the optimal host server for individual virtual machines is a key task in system administration. For example, a memory-intensive load is scarcely affected by an additional Virtual Machine (VM), which requires a great deal of computing power but relatively little disk-drive capacity. A centralized analysis of all resources for performance and load will determine the optimal allocation.

5. Measure and evaluate

A key aspect of the process is the need to monitor the overall performance of virtual and physical environments. This may include monitoring an individual VM, a given virtual container (ESX, P5, etc.), the relative performance of a given VM compared with other VMs, or the relative performance of a group of VMs (constituting an IT or a business service). This level of performance analysis allows the administrator to effectively manage the demands on resources and maintain the desired service levels. For example, it could be that several applications experience peak load at the same time or completely tie up the physical network adapter for the host computer. To recognize and prevent such a dangerous situation, the management environment needs to evaluate and correlate the performance metrics for both the virtual and physical computers in real-time and using historical trending.

6. Actively manage relationships

Complexity affects the interaction between physical and virtual resources at every level, particularly in larger infrastructures. Introducing a configuration management database (CMDB) helps administrators maintain the necessary overview. It stores detailed data on all the resources within an IT environment, using that data to track, analyze and maintain the configuration and its corresponding relationships.

7. Wanting only what's best for the business

The advantages of virtualization technology are not a subject of dispute nowadays, but virtualization is not ideal for every situation. Virtual machines should be utilized wherever possible unless for specific reasons of application performance or availability separate physical servers are required. For example, mission-critical applications like Oracle, SAP or Web applications require dedicated physical servers.

8. Allow some interplay

Generally, operating systems, applications and services perform better when they are run directly on the server, thereby countering any loss of performance caused by the virtualization level. At the same time the available system performance becomes more predictable when resources are subjected to a smaller load. One can readily see the logic in switching the load between the virtual and physical environments for business-critical IT services or during certain periods when peak load occurs. Consequently, the provisioning function should not be limited exclusively to a VM image.

9. Simplify and standardize

Virtualization introduces consolidation on the one hand, while increasing management complexity on the other. IT managers commonly counter the heterogeneity and complexity of IT infrastructures by implementing best practices and standardization. However, a company's established processes and methods for operating the physical systems must encompass the virtual resources as well, or it must formulate additional processes and methods to incorporate the virtual world.

10. Keep your eyes on the finish line

Ultimately the objective of IT administration is to dynamically allocate available resources so they automatically adapt to changing business conditions. Virtualization is among the most critical technologies available to meet that objective. Nevertheless, only when we integrate them into comprehensive solutions, such as data centre automation and IT infrastructure management, can the potential of virtualization emerge in a broader context and produce the most beneficial result.

Maria Medvedeva is Regional Director of Technical Sales for CA.

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