What You Didn't Know About Virtualization Management

I recently recorded a podcast (it will be posted in the next day or so) with David Lynch at Embotics. David and I had a very engaging discussion about the challenges of managing virtualized environments. We usually think of managing virtualization in terms of monitoring and configuration management using tools like Microsoft's System Center or the upcoming Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

David has a bit different take on the virtualization management problem. It's more slanted towards not only knowing what's in a virtual image but where it came from, in essence its genealogy. Embotics has an interesting take on this that I found pretty relevant.

So I asked David to write a guest blog post about his views on the virtualization management problem. I think you'll find this an interesting introduction to what we will talk about on the upcoming podcast.

Here's David's guest blog post.

VM Management Challenges

By David Lynch, Vice President, Embotics

Server virtualization represents a significant ROI for any data center, and perhaps more importantly can provide much needed flexibility and agility for IT organizations. This paves the way to ultimate dream - the truly virtual or dynamic data center.

But, server virtualization has its own challenges, especially when it comes to management. While virtual servers have a lot in common with their physical counterparts and share a lot of the management tasks (update and configuration management etc.), the virtual space is much more dynamic. VMs are able to move or clone easily and be deployed with the click of a mouse.

These differences create specific management issues that include:

  • Identity / Asset Management

    Unlike physical servers, VMs can be difficult to track effectively. They can quickly change state and move offline to online, and be moved around the environment either through operator intervention or through the action of tools. VMs also are easily created, destroyed and cloned. Without the ability to uniquely identify and track VMs, moving through their lifecycle, managing and controlling them, becomes an onerous task.
  • Controlling the environment

    The inherent mobility and ease of creation / cloning of VMs creates challenges in controlling the environment. Where most data centers have an established process and system for deploying physical servers, this does not work easily for VMs - where conceptually, if a server is seen on the network, users can deploy a VM to it. The difficulty in control shows up first as a challenge in simply knowing how many VMs are deployed (either running or offline). At a recent security-focused trade show presentation, only about 5% of the audience of IT professionals knew the number of VMs deployed in their environments.
  • Increased Workload

    While there can be considerable time saved when deploying VMs compared to their physical counterparts, the tracking and controlling challenges tend to offset this by creating increased workload for the IT teams. If the systems cannot track and control things automatically, then it has to be done manually. And, anything done manually is prone to error. This is acerbated by the increase in "number of servers / Admin" ratios as virtualization rolls out. There are savings, but OS's and applications still need to be patched and updated.
  • Integration with data center management systems

    The traditional data center tools do not tend to work well when it comes to VMs. They were built to manage and control servers that were easily identified and deployed through a well-structured process which tended to stay put once deployed. For example, discovery / asset systems can either miss VMs (because they are offline at the time of a scan), or end up counting them multiple times (because they moved hosts in between scans), making them unreliable. Security systems often need to know what they are protecting and where they are - which can be a challenge in the virtual space.

Integration issues are not only limited to traditional systems. You can also see issues within the "virtual" tools. For example, while VMware VirtualCenter (VC) manages the VMs connected to it, it is difficult to get a complete picture while using multiple VCs as they do not federate.

Most of us have experienced server sprawl at some point and know the kind of problems this can create. Without adequate control, virtual sprawl is a certainty. Understanding these challenges while implementing server virtualization helps users solve these problems. Fortunately, VM management and control systems are emerging to help overcome the challenges of identity, control, workload and integration, allowing users to always stay in control.

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Check out Mitchell's Converging On Microsoft Podcast. Current Podcast Episode: Security Mike Gets Serious About Security

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