Virtual goo

Virtualization is hard to contain. That makes the virtual infrastructure difficult to manage and nearly impossible to optimize for performance. A look at the challenge

Virtualization is a superhero among technologies, transforming static, brittle data centers into dynamic, flexible resource pools and giving IT an easy way to cut costs, improve services and expand operations beyond the limits of the physical world. With great power, however, comes great responsibility.

Unchecked, those virtualized pools can turn into unruly blobs that spiral out of control and ultimately wreak havoc in the environments they were meant to save. If you can't contain virtualization, you can't manage the virtual infrastructure and you certainly will find optimizing it quite a challenge.

"Making the jump from physical to virtual requires capacity planning and management, and a lot more thought [about] the requirements around monitoring a mixed virtual environment," says Jake Seitz, enterprise architect at The First American Corp.

First American's complex environment - comprising 2,800 HP servers and 700 VMware virtual machines - demands a new approach to managing and optimizing server, storage and desktop resources, Seitz says. His group uses VMware tools to monitor the environment in what he calls a reactive manner; he now is considering third-party options. What he wants is "a proactive standpoint that provides accountability for every virtual machine," he says.

A step behind

Unfortunately, management- and automation-tool vendors are not keeping up with the virtualization technologies proliferating across IT silos, industry watchers say. Today's popularity of x86 server virtualization via VMware does not indicate that homogeneous environments will be the norm in the future. Enterprise IT managers trying to optimize resource use will create mixed virtual-server and multifunction virtualization environments. These, in turn, will demand heterogeneous orchestration, management and automation to achieve optimized performance.

"There has been so much emphasis on x86 virtual machines that, when you start talking about other types of virtualization, no one knows really what to do. There is simply much less knowledge," says Jasmine Noel, principal analyst at Ptak, Noel & Associates.

It makes a lot of sense to virtualize storage in concert with virtual servers, then automatically provision from resource pools to meet application demand. It also makes sense to virtualize user desktops. The number of people, processes and tools needed to orchestrate such an environment, however, might outweigh the value virtualization can deliver.

At First American, for example, Seitz says storage and desktop virtualization certainly will play future roles in the enterprise. Plus, he adds, the company will still have legacy environments with which to contend. "I don't think we'll want 17 different tools."

Tools that can automate across the infrastructure will be critical, says Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner.

"It's important to look at virtualization in a holistic fashion [because] poor design in one IT silo can impact the overall performance. It's important to have management visibility across these technology components to help us rapidly diagnose potential performance and availability problems," Haight says. "Automation technology will be the key to address the scale, mobility and other attributes that virtualization brings to the IT infrastructure."

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