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Time To Halt Runaway VM Sprawl

Companies creating virtual machines without governance and change management equivalent to physical servers are headed for trouble.

If you're transitioning physical servers to virtual machines without a codified migration and management plan, stop and back slowly away from the data center. Consider: How will you audit for compliance if you don't know where all your production VMs reside, or even how many you have? Can you guarantee that security policies are in place for sensitive data? What about application performance monitoring--if a critical app running on a VM slows down, will you even be able to find it, much less diagnose the issue?

Those experiencing a vague feeling of unease may need an intervention before they get their hands on Microsoft's Hyper-V, which for Windows Server 2008 shops costs significantly less than other hypervisors. If you were tempted to spawn new VMs at a heady pace when you were paying for VMware ESX licenses, the urge may be irresistible when Hyper-V gets rolling. We saw inklings of this in our most recent InformationWeek Analytics Virtualization Management reader poll: Even before Hyper-V was officially released, Microsoft left Citrix in the dust in terms of which server virtualization platforms readers planned to run in production through 2010. Thirty-eight percent cited Virtual Server 2005 and/or Hyper-V vs. just 10% naming Xen. Sixty-seven percent expect to stick with VMware Server/ESX.

Picking the most disturbing result of that poll is a challenge. When we asked about how live migrations of virtualized servers among physical hosts are managed, fewer than one in four said they employ specialized VM mobility tools, either bundled with their VM platforms or from a third party. Twenty-one percent track migrations manually. But 56% said they have no mechanism to move VMs in an orderly manner. As if that weren't bad enough, 34% admitted to a totally ad hoc exodus of VMs into production from test labs.

Admitting you need to put a policy in place is half the battle. We run down the vendors offering virtualization management in our report, but the reality is that there's a lot IT can do to rein in out-of-control growth without investing in a VM-specific management tool.

The credo to live by: A virtual server is still a server, with all the policies and security and management concerns of a physical box. Build a mission statement that lays out organizational goals for virtualization. Are power savings the top driver, or is highly flexible allocation of IT resources most important? Then inventory your physical and virtualized environments, including mapping virtualization hosts, VM instances, and physical servers destined for conversion. Overlay compliance and data security policies and organizational and management requirements, such as periods of spiking demand, and existing patch, network, and systems management systems that must encompass virtualization hosts. Put in place strict controls on VM creation; if an IT or line-of-business unit wouldn't be allowed to add a physical server to the network, neither should it be able to bypass formal change management checkpoints to spawn new VMs. And once a VM is established, incorporate it into your ongoing life-cycle management program.

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