Solving the mystery of managing virtual servers

* What it takes to manage virtual servers

Server virtualization excites both industry watchers and IT managers looking to get more out of the infrastructure they have and build dynamic data centers that can more quickly respond to business needs.

Yet the technology around virtualizing x86 servers also causes some concern when performance and availability management discussions arise. Being about to abstract the server software from the actual physical box introduces additional resources that can be allocated in new ways. But how do IT managers stay on top of the resources and their hosts to ensure the dynamic new environment is delivering optimal performance?

This week in Network World we address several compelling questions around managing virtual servers that are circulating in the industry. It's not a question of whether management will be an issue; it's more a question of how IT managers can prevent the management issues a large virtual environment will introduce in their data centers.

"Generally speaking the problems with managing servers don't go away in the virtual environment. And in some cases they get more difficult," says Stephen Elliot, a research director with IDC. "Dealing with virtual machines means you are managing multiple operating systems and multiple applications on a single box. That means change, problem, patch and performance management remain essential to the virtual infrastructure."

While existing vendors and newcomers are stepping up to provide more features specific to managing virtual servers, IT managers still need to stay on top of server configurations and allocation processes to prevent problems such as server creep or sprawl. Industry watchers say that the virtual environment might force IT managers' hands when it comes to better defining and enforcing provisioning and deprovisioning policies.

"[You prevent server sprawl] the same way that you ensure the provisioning, use and retirement of physical servers -- with policies, processes, auditing and reporting," says Jasmine Noel, a principal analyst with Ptak, Noel and Associates.

But while some processes may remain the same, others warn that managing the virtual realm requires a bit of thinking outside the box, literally.

"There are two major differences between managing a physical and virtual environment. The first is that hardware and virtual server software scoping is critical. It is important to choose virtual resources that will appropriately run on the physical hardware that has been selected," says Adam Gray, CTO of Novacoast, an IT professional services company based in Santa Barbara, Calif. "Appropriate metrics need to be in place so that you do not put too big or hungry of a service on a box that will not keep up with the workload. Mail servers and Database servers are most often the culprit for this type of abuse.

"The second issue is with keeping track of virtual machines. It seems very cliche that it is possible to lose a virtual machine among the physical hardware. The truth is, without proper management tools, it is far too easy. Before we ran Novell's ZENworks Orchestrator, we were constantly moving virtual machines by hand and we often would forget where a virtual machine was hosted. It was a real problem," Gray adds.

How do you tackle managing virtual servers? Have you put new tools or processes in place or does the existing approach fit the bill? Let me know, or start a discussion in our community here.

Editor's note: Starting the week of Nov. 12, you will notice a number of enhancements to Network World newsletters that will provide you with more resources and more news links relevant to the newsletter's subject. The Network/Systems Management newsletter written by Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie will be merged with the Network/Systems News Alert and will be named the Network/Systems Alert. You'll get Denise's analysis of the network/systems management market, which you will be able to read in full at NetworkWorld.com, plus links to the day's network/systems management news and other relevant resources. This Alert will be mailed on Mondays and Wednesdays. We hope you will enjoy the enhancements and we thank you for reading Network World newsletters.

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