Jan 17 2011

Management Tools Mature

Two school districts find solutions to virtualization management issues.

Two school districts find solutions to virtualization management issues.

February 2011 E-newsletter

Virtual Lessons

Management Tools Mature

The Capacity Plan

A Powerful Combination

Some of the latest management tools keep the virtualized server environment for the Orange County Public Schools in Florida running smoothly and up to date.

Hermes Mendez, the district's director for infrastructure, says he and his staff use Quest Software management tools to get the most of its VMware environment.

“We purchased vRanger, vFoglight and vOptimizer as management products,” says Mendez. “They allow for better management organization and backup.”

Mendez says vRanger is used for backup and replication; vFoglight for infrastructure modeling and capacity planning; and vOptimizer for quickly finding and reclaiming over-allocated VM storage so it can be used more efficiently.

The Orange County school district 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.”

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.

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 staff monitor all virtual machines from a single source; and the SolarWinds Orion Network Performance Monitor, which quickly detects, diagnoses and resolves performance issues.   

Deborah Karcher, CIO for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, says the proliferation of new product options can be a bit overwhelming, and there can be strong temptations to try something new.

“When we went with VMware, they were the only game in town,” she says. “Now, Microsoft has a version, Citrix has a version and everybody says their version is bigger and better. I would say that before people jump to some of the newer products that they also consider what it takes to ramp up your staff to change. It's not easy.”

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

For those ready to move forward, Craig Rinehart, Miami-Dade's administrative director of business and operational services, says some of the software options within VMware that have been most useful include Dynamic Resource Scheduling, which lets virtual machines migrate to less busy hosts without manual intervention; and High Availability, which lets IT staff restart virtual machines in the event of a host hardware failure. In the case of an operation system failure, HA will restart the affected virtual machine on the same physical server. 

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.