Virtualization is as mature of a technology as you will find today. For the most part, the benefits of virtualization, such as high availability, virtual machine (VM) mobility and consolidation are well understood and valued accordingly. However, unfortunately for some IT administrators, virtualization is not their primary responsibility, so they are getting a late start in the virtualization game. Perhaps you fall into this category.
The confluence of a mature technology and a late start means that much of the current content and learning materials are not tailored to you; instead, they’re written with the assumption that readers already have some level of expertise. The IT adage, “New is cool and old is not,” remains a fixture.
So, what skills do you need in order to successfully walk the walk that comes with being an accidental virtualization administrator?
The toughest step in any journey is getting started. Your current approach might be akin to throwing darts at a dart board (a.k.a. chuck and duck) in the hopes that something might just stick and resolve any issue that arises. But as you’ve probably observed, that’s rarely the best way to do things. The following six skills make up a straightforward framework that will have any accidental virtualization admin up to speed in no time.
Find out what’s going on. This simple principle should guide you in understanding the health and risks of your virtualized assets, such as VMs, datastores and virtual hard disks. Discovery begins by establishing a point-in-time baseline for the health and risks of your environment. Once you understand what’s in your environment and each component’s health and risks, you should look at addressing changes that occur in the environment -- especially systems that can break or situations that can lead to slow applications, which in turn leads to poor end-user experience.
Find a simple way to know when something breaks. The essence of this skill is to ensure that you’re not constantly in front of a monitor because, frankly, no one has time for that. The noise should be filtered from the signal such that only the most important information is presented to you. The information that's highlighted should allow you to take corrective actions on a much narrower problem set. As you gain more experience, you’ll be more adept at creating more meaningful alerts to bypass even more noise.
Find the root cause. Your focus should be on solving the right problem instead of chasing false positives or waterfalls. Being able to quickly uncover the root of a virtual environment problem translates into being able to remediate it that much faster. This will provide you with a lot of experience, but it can also keep you in the data centers at night and on weekends.
Fix the problem. The core principle is to get the data center in working order as fast as possible. For a virtualization admin, this is a race against time. Every minute an application or system is down equates to lost opportunity and often lost revenue. Admins get paid to fix complex problems and the very best of us fix issues using the most simple and straightforward means, which adds no additional overhead to virtualized environments.
Run more efficiently and effectively. Granted this is a more of an advanced skill, but oftentimes as a new virtualization admin, you will have to tune an environment that you neither built or have full control across. The key is to manage change in your environment as best as you possibly can. The changes may exist as configuration settings in the infrastructure, both hardware and software, or in the virtualized data center environment with resource pool changes, VM migration, etc.
Scale IT. This sixth skill is the one that puts all of the previous five to work in a smarter-not-harder model. It hinges on eliminating repetitive tasks and remediating well-known issues automatically so you can focus on higher value functions, such as architectural design or workflow orchestration.
With the right discovery, alerting, troubleshooting, remediation, optimization and automation skills, combined with leveraging a proper virtualization management tool, you can evolve from a novice virtualization administrator into the master of your virtualized universe. And the best part is that these skills and their associated experience can be ported to learn other technology constructs, such as cloud computing, containers, and microservices.