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The 8 key challenges of virtualizing your data center

By , Network World
February 22, 2007 11:49 AM ET

Network World - The benefit of virtualizing x86 servers is clear: break the link between software and hardware and create the foundation for a more dynamic, flexible and efficient data center. With the market for virtualization software expected to grow to more than $1 billion this year, companies are more than kicking the tires on the technology. But the road to a virtual data center isn’t without its twists and turns. The move to a virtual environment must be done carefully and with an understanding of how the new infrastructure will change IT planning and management. What follows is a list of eight virtualization “gotchas" — hurdles that users may face as they deploy virtual environments — that we’ve compiled through discussions with IT professionals, analysts and vendors.

Thinking ahead
In a January report titled "Virtualization considerations: Forewarned is forearmed," Saugatuck Technology analysts lay out issues companies should think about when they're virtualizing servers:
Will the physical site have adequate and appropriate electrical power?
Will the physical site have adequate and appropriately concentrated cooling capacity?
Will the physical site have appropriate security facilities?
Will the physical site have adequate utility backup?
Will the consolidated/virtualized platform provide the availability needed for the workloads it will run?
Will the consolidated/virtualized platform require new support tools and/or staff skills?
Click to see: Virtualization tips

1. Forgoing the physical: The idea of moving to a virtual environment is to run more virtual workloads on fewer physical systems, but that doesn’t mean hardware moves down on the list of priorities. If organizations don’t carefully consider what physical resources are necessary to support virtual workloads and monitor the hardware resources accordingly, they may find themselves in trouble. “With virtualization, it’s really a matter of putting the right physical systems behind it," says David Payne, CTO at Xcedex, a virtualization consulting firm based in Minneapolis. “Some people think they can buy a cheap system from Dell or HP, throw in the hardware, then put virtualization on top of it and have their virtual environment. But many times that’s done based on commodity price, rather than really considering what the virtual workloads are going to be. The companies we’ve worked with that have been most successful have paid a lot of attention to the planning portion and they end up with a really good result, getting high utilization on these systems and a really good consolidation ratio."

2. Sub-par application performance: While virtualization is becoming increasingly widespread, many applications aren’t yet tuned for virtual environments. For example, Daniel Burtenshaw, senior systems engineer at University Health Care in Salt Lake City, deployed VMware’s ESX Server about a year ago with mostly good results. “Our biggest issues have been with some of our application vendors not being willing to support their applications on virtual servers, as well as limitations with the version of ESX that we are using," he says. The healthcare organization has a large Citrix environment, but when it moved some of its Citrix servers into the VMware environment, it found that performance didn’t keep up, Burtenshaw says. “Basically, we get a very limited number of users per server, so if we virtualize, a bunch of virtual servers on a host is equivalent to just having one physical host," he says, adding that his firm is upgrading to VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure 3. “From what we have read — but we have not tested it yet —Virtual Infrastructure 3 is supposed to be optimized better for hosting Citrix, so we should be able to get a more normal user load on the virtual servers."

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