Jan 17 2011

Management Tools Mature

New management software tools offer flexibility and efficiency for server virtualization projects.

New management software tools offer flexibility and efficiency for server virtualization projects.

February 2011 E-newsletter

Virtualization Reality

Management Tools Mature

The Capacity Plan

A Powerful Combination

When The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., made the move to server virtualization in 2005, they had no idea how important virtualization management would become – in terms of both savings and the sheer complexities of managing growth. 

“We are growing at a rapid pace – 20 virtual machines a quarter,” says Mark Harris, GW's associate director of systems engineering.

Harris and his staff have turned to the management features within VMware to help them handle the university's expanding use of virtual machines.

“Having the VMware in place allows us to do things more dynamically,” Harris says. “If we have to react to a situation to leverage our second data center or respond to a failed piece of hardware, the software can help us do that.”

GW is a typical example of an organization that has invested considerable resources in server virtualization, which poses its own set of management issues, including virtual sprawl, maximizing server capacity, preventing downtime, and provisioning and configuring virtual machines. 

Virtual sprawl is one issue that's become a major challenge for IT organizations, says Alan Dayley, managing vice president of the infrastructure software market research team for Gartner. When IT departments managed mostly physical boxes, it could take several weeks to bring up a system, he adds. Today, virtual machines can be provisioned in a matter of seconds.  

“Now it's just a matter of a few mouse clicks,” Dayley says, adding that while this provisioning speed lets IT departments work faster, save on physical boxes and reduce energy costs, it also creates the potential for server sprawl.  

“All of a sudden, where you might have had 500 physical servers, you have 800, 1,000 or 1,200 virtual machines because they're so easy to bring up and utilize,” he says. “Trying to manage that has turned into a bit of a nightmare.”

That's what happened at the New England School of Law in Boston, where managing servers across several campuses miles apart became a real effort.  

“A lot of times we were not sure which apps were running on which servers at which campus,” says Nathan Reisdorff, the law school's director of operations and network infrastructure, who adds that with the new features in network management software he worries less about setting up applications for people. Better management has also saved on licensing costs.

Added Pressure

Along with server sprawl, issues such as capacity planning and migration management are putting pressure on IT staff, Gartner's Dayley says.

“The bad habits in the physical world just get that much more magnified once they come to a virtual world because there are so many more moving parts, and IT staff just didn't think about it,” he says.

Dayley says as organizations experience management issues with virtualization, they are turning primarily to their manufacturers for solutions. VMware has responded by adding features that let IT departments provision, deploy, configure and maintain their virtual environments. For instance: The ability to move a running virtual machine from one physical host to another, dynamic workload balancing and instant provisioning are all features that allow IT staff to move resources around dynamically as demand changes for an application.

The percentage of CIOs who say they are avoiding using virtualization for certain mission-critical workloads because of concerns about backup and recovery.

SOURCE: “VMware Data Protection Report 2010,” Veeam

Offerings from software companies such as CA, BMC, HP and IBM also are available, as well as new products such as Hyperic HQ, which lets IT staffs monitor all virtual machines from a single source, and the SolarWinds Orion Network Performance Monitor, which quickly detects, diagnoses and resolves performance issues. 

Gartner's Dayley says virtualization management expenditures are going to be the biggest issue for IT organizations this year. In the past, IT departments focused on adding higher-level servers or more storage.

“Now those management tools are the key driver,” Dayley says. “Virtualization is a nonstop train. Without proper management, it's a train that can easily be derailed.”

Room for Improvement

Forrester, a technology and market research company, recommends three process improvements to exploit energy savings potential from server virtualization. By optimizing these three processes, Forrester estimates that organizations can cut their server energy costs 27 to 65 percent.

  • Make sure you are actually saving energy. The best way to do this is to turn off or decommission servers that are no longer running any workloads.
  • Increase the VM-to-physical host and server utilization levels. This decreases the total number of physical servers and reduces energy consumption.
  • Run the virtual environment on more energy-efficient servers and architectures. Forrester recommends seeking newer models of the same servers the organization already purchases.