Managing the virtual world

CA earlier this week became the latest management vendor to roll out tools to manage virtual server environments, joining BMC Software, IBM/Tivoli, Opsware and others rushing to fill this important need.

While virtualization has proved to be a boon - making it easier to consolidate and mix and match resources, among other things - the need for an integrated control plane for the physical and virtual worlds has become evident only as virtual machines have found increasingly important roles in production environments.

Because virtual servers can be created and changed so easily, a typical byproduct of virtual server adoption is an explosion in the number of servers used. That's a development that can negate some of the gains achieved by moving to the virtual realm.

Opsware CTO Tim Howes calls this phenomenon virtual machine sprawl. "Users end up creating hundreds of unsecured, unlicensed, unmonitored virtual machines," he says.

And it will get worse. Only a fraction of servers are virtual today, according to IDC, but more than half of all servers will be virtual by 2011, and that number jumps to 70% by 2013.

But Howes argues that lack of virtual machine management tools is hampering adoption of the technology, citing EMA research that shows 76% of virtualization deployments are on 500 or fewer servers. Where virtualization is used, 76% of the time it is used for test and development, 52% for file and print, 50% for Web servers and 44% for custom applications, according to Forrester Research.

Virtualization isn't used more widely, Howes says, because of the inherent management issues. "You have all the same issues with physical servers - configuration, patching - plus a slate of new management issues for the virtual realm: creating virtual machines, deleting them, moving, them and so on."

Howes says management of virtual environments is complicated by several issues: the hypervisor layer that makes virtualization possible represents a new software layer that needs to be mastered; virtual environments bring with them a host of new interdependencies and complex relationships; and the environments evolve more quickly because it is easier to change stuff on the fly (VMware's VMotion tool, for example, lets users move live virtual machines among physical servers).

Today many IT shops are using a mix of off-the-shelf products and homegrown tools to manage virtual environments, but achieving scale will require management wares such as those from Opsware, CA and the others. Next year will see these technologies blossom, and not a minute too soon.

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