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Taking the Final Server Virtualization Steps

Every Problem Has Multiple Solutions

There is a trend in the high-tech industry to jump from one hot technology to another, without waiting for customers to catch up. We’re certainly seeing it with Cloud, there are people out there pushing the “everyone else is doing it and gaining agility!” button every day. But you’re not there yet. Part of the reason you’re not there yet is that virtualization is still growing up. Between VM sprawl, resource over-utilization, virtual versus physical infrastructure, and the inherent task of IT to continue to support the business as it sits today, there isn’t a ton of time left for hopping on the Cloud bandwagon. And some of these things – VM Sprawl and resource over-utilization for example – counter-indicate a move to Cloud, simply because they are situations that will cost you money if you do them on a platform that charges you by the rate of transfer or number of VMs. As Lori so aptly put it in one of her blogs, if you can’t manage it internally, you can’t manage it externally either.


The solutions for most of these problems are coming, or are here already, you just need the time to put them into place, or they need the time to mature. We at F5 certainly have help for storage that is over-utilized, and can speed the transfer of VMs via VMotion, and you might have heard of this little solution for physical versus virtual infrastructure we have. But we don’t have all the solutions, nor does anyone else, meaning you’ll have to work a bit, shop around a bit, and focus on the idea that, in order to serve the organization adequately you need to know what VMs you have, how many copies of them there are, where each is running, and what resources are assigned to it. VM inventory tools are helpful, but don’t cover the copy part, and honestly, those copies can eat up a lot of your precious disk space. We have tools to help you find all of the non-running VMs on NAS devices, and no doubt others have covered the SAN devices, so that’s not insurmountable.

The big bit is resource over-utilization. Both over-provisioning and outright over-utilization. It’s easy to tell if you’re over-provisioning or have too many VMs, you’ll need more disk pretty quickly, since it is the item generally over-provisioned. Performance issues will tell you if you are over-utilizing CPU or memory, but if you are using VMWare’s tools, you should have no problem with that. Disk virtualization (both SAN and NAS) and thin provisioning can generally help ease the pain of disk over-provisioning, but as I said here, you could be setting off a time-bomb using thin provisioning if you’re not on top of your actual usage.


So in the end the issues that you most need to contend with are policy, procedure, oversight, and management oriented. And those don’t evolve overnight. You have to work at it to make sure that you are focused on the potential pain points in your organization. You still have everything to do that you had to do five years ago, but now you have to worry about VM interactions and all of the above. Troubleshooting can be harder, load balancing requires more forethought (if you start another instance on a server that is already hosting a busy instance of the same app, you will likely regret it), and you have to adjust both management and staff’s thinking to the virtualized world.

But the benefits are worth it. You truly are more agile, by a huge percentage, due to increased standardization of server images that comes naturally in a world of VMs, things are easier to find and do on each server, and potentially you can do more with the same staff (though I could argue both sides of this one). And it’s a vetted technology ready to run your business – or at least most of it.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is a system to account for VMs. The more virtualized your data center becomes, the closer you are to having a downloadable file hold all of the secret sauce of your IT shop. If you’re small enough (or brave enough), even your databases could be sitting in VMs, which would mean that your secret sauce and personally identifiable information of your customers might be a “copy” operation away. Querying a few fields from a DB is bad enough, a miscreant – be they internal or external - having the entire DB and all the data files is a disaster.


All new technologies bring new challenges, and the rate of adoption that virtualization has seen virtually guarantees that all its problems will be resolved (pun intended, sorry). Just keep your eyes peeled and focus on those processes to make sure you’re as protected as possible, as those are the bits you’ll need regardless of the technology solutions that are advanced in the next couple of years.

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Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.