What does it take to manage virtual servers?

Virtualization demands IT managers take a closer look at management processes, tools

Virtualization can help IT managers allocate more resources with less hardware, but not without introducing a slew of management challenges.

Server virtualization makes it possible to run multiple applications and operating systems on fewer hardware resources, which appeals to many IT managers looking to improve utilization. According to a recent Forrester Research poll, respondents have virtualized about one-quarter of their servers and plan to have close to 50% virtualized in two years. As enterprise IT teams look to broaden their server virtualization deployments, it's important to get in front of the management challenges, according to industry watchers and IT managers.

"Virtualization is a rather addictive technology and IT organizations are spinning out virtual machines faster then they can manage them. The technology warrants a management investment from the start," says Stephen Elliot, a research director with IDC.

For those who are struggling with how to manage virtual machines, here are answers to six important questions.

1. What's so tough about managing virtual servers?

Some will tell you that managing virtual machines varies little from managing physical servers, and others will say it depends on what you're managing. But all agree you need to have a comprehensive management plan in place before widely deploying virtualization in production environments.

"Management is not a single discipline. It can range from business continuity planning to patch management," says Andi Mann, a research director at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). In the case of business continuity planning, virtual servers could be considered easier to manage than physical servers, Mann explains, but when it comes to patching multiple systems, the virtual world introduces complexities. "You can't always be certain if all virtual systems are patched, and obviously that's a problem," Mann says.

Consistency and standardization also become a bigger issue when managing virtual servers alongside physical machines. The perks of virtualization include easy-to-deploy resources, and that demands IT managers have predefined configuration parameters for application and database servers, for instance. Experts say keeping configurations accurate and up-to-date becomes more critical in the virtual environment because configuration drift is more apt to happen on virtual machines. The same goes for patching.

"The focus shifts to managing templates and preventing drift," says Jasmine Noel, principal analyst with Ptak, Noel and Associates. IT managers would ideally create a standard template that details the operating system, vendor software, patch levels, custom code and more. The template would be maintained so that every new virtual server deployed remained consistent with the predefined standard. Patching would also become part of the template, Noel says.

Beyond maintenance and availability management, another key management issue is performance. The complexity of a virtual environment makes determining the root cause of performance issues a more daunting task, industry watchers say.

"Performance management becomes trickier because for the more difficult problems you'll need to understand how physical server issues manifest in the [virtual machines] and vice versa," Noel says.

While virtualization provides flexible resources, multiple virtual machines residing on one box compete for the same resources and IT managers need to keep that in mind.

"No longer do you have the limitations of just what is in the server shell, but you have to worry about what else is in that box and what it needs," says Edward Christensen, director of technical operations at Cars.com in Chicago.

The online automotive company uses VMware to virtualize servers on HP boxes in its development and quality-assurance environments. "Where you used to think, 'I have a two processor/16GB server,' you are now thinking, 'Do I have two processors and 16GB I can use or is [a particular virtual machine] taking that up or needing it also?'" he adds.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Denise Dubie

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?