Monday, August 31, 2009

Harnessing 'virtualization sprawl' requires managing an ecosystem of technologies, suppliers

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Better managing server virtualization expansion across enterprises has become essential if the benefits of virtualization are to be preserved and enhanced at scale. I recently had a chance to examine ways that IT organizations can adopt virtualization at deeper levels, or across more systems, data and applications -- but at lower risk.

As more enterprises use virtualization for more workloads to engender productivity from higher server utilization, we often see what can be called virtualization sprawl, spreading a mixture of hypervisors, which leads to complexity and management concerns.

In order to ramp up to more -- yet advantageous -- use of virtualization, pitfalls from heterogeneity need to be managed well. Yet, no one of the hypervisor suppliers is likely to deeply support any of the others.

So how do companies gain a top-down perspective of virtualization to encompass and manage the entire ecosystem, rather than just corralling the individual technologies? To better understand the risks of hypervisor sprawl and how to mitigate the pitfalls to preserve the economic benefits of virtualization, I recently interviewed Doug Strain, manager of Partner Virtualization Marketing at HP.

Here are some excepts:
Strain: Virtualization has been growing very steeply in the last few years anyway, but with the economy, the economic reasons for it are really changing. Initially, companies were using it to do consolidation. They continue to do that, but now the big deal with economy is the consolidation to lower cost -- not only capital cost, but also operating expenses.

... There’s a lot of underutilized capacity out there, and, particularly as companies are having more difficulty getting funding for more capital expenses, they’ve got to figure out how to maximize the utilizations they’ve already bought.

We’re seeing a little bit of a consolidation in the market, as we get to a handful of large players. Certainly, VMware has been early on in the market, has continued to grow, and has continued to add new capabilities. It's really the vendor to beat.

Of course, Microsoft is investing very heavily in this, and we’ve seen with Hyper-V, fairly good demand from the customers on that. And, with some of the things that Microsoft has already announced in their R2 version, they’re going to continue to catch up.

We’ve also got some players like Citrix, who really leverage their dominance in what’s called Presentation Server, now XenApp, market and use that as a great foot in the door for virtualization.

Strain: Because of the fact that all the major vendors now have free hypervisor capabilities, it becomes so easy to virtualize, number one, and so easy to add additional virtual machines, that it can be difficult to manage if technology organizations don’t do that in a planned way.

Most of the virtualization vendors do have management tools, but those tools are really optimized for their particular virtualization ecosystem. In some cases, there is some ability to reach out to heterogeneous virtualization, but it’s clear that that’s not a focus for most of the virtualization players. They want to really focus on their environment.

The other piece is that the hardware management is critical here. An example would be, if you’ve got a server that is having a problem, that could very well introduce downtime. You've got to have a way of navigating the virtual machine, so that those are moved off of the server.

That’s really an area where HP has really tried to invest in trying to pull all that together, being able to do the physical management with our Insight Control tools, and then tying that into the virtualization management with multiple vendors, using Insight Dynamics – VSE. ... We think that having tools that work consistently both in physical and in virtual environments, and allow you to easily transition between them is really important to customers.

There are a lot of ways that you can plan ahead on this, and be able to do this in a way that you don't have to pay a penalty later on.

Capacity assessment

It could be something as simple as doing a capacity assessment, a set of services that goes in and looks at what you’ve got today, how you can best use those resources, and how those can be transitioned. In most cases you’re going to want to have a set of tools like some of the ones I’ve talked about with Insight Control and Insight Dynamics VSE, so that you do have more control of the sprawl and, as you add new virtual machines, you do that in a more intelligent way.

We invest very heavily in certifying across the virtualization vendors, across the broadest range of server and storage platforms. What we’re finding is that we can’t say that one particular server or one particular storage is right for everybody. We’ve got to meet the broadest needs for the customers.

...Virtualization is certainly not the only answer or not the only component of data center transformation, but it is a substantial one. And, it's one that companies of almost any size can take advantage of, particularly now, where some of the requirements for extensive shared storage have decreased. It's really something that almost anybody who's got even one or two servers can take advantage of, all the way to the largest enterprises.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Free Offer: Get a complimentary copy of the new book Cloud Computing For Dummies courtesy of Hewlett-Packard at www.hp.com/go/cloudpodcastoffer.