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Virtualization Management Hurdles Remain In 2012

Ask any virtualization veteran: The chaos of server sprawl can easily be replaced by virtual machine sprawl.

A November InformationWeek report, The Zen of Virtual Maintenance, laid out the virtualization management challenges. The report says 30% of respondents to a survey of IT managers said they run 10 to 20 virtual machines per physical host server, up from only 15% a year ago, while 3% run 21 to 40 VMs per host server, unchanged from a 2010 survey. The number of respondents who said they run 40 or more VMs per service inched up to 8% in 2011, from 7% in 2010.

While running more VMs per increases the utilization of physical servers, which is one of virtualization's chief advantages, "all of this progress comes at a price," the report states. Virtual sprawl may mean that virtual machines meant for testing and development purposes, may be consuming IT resources--memory, disk, and processing and electrical power--that are better suited to production environments.

"Active but unused VMs won't have much affect on [high availability] if your environment is at 5% utilization, but when host resource utilization goes over 35% or so, it starts to matter," the report said.

[ Find out why Network Computing deemed Virtualization Hot in 2011. ]

To be sure, the growth of virtualization, especially in the context of ever-increasing cloud computing, presents IT staff with new management challenges, said Ramin Sayar, a VP and general manager at VMware.

In an interview following a recent VMware briefing with reporters in San Francisco, Sayar said management challenges face not just virtualization in server environments, but also the coming virtualization of storage and networking environments.

"The challenge still is that customers need to rethink how the network teams, how the server teams, how the storage teams come together to automate together," he said. "The manual process for [VM] approvals, and then all the adjunct functions that need to happen with respect to network and storage policies assigned to that physical machine or that virtual machine, it's still too complex."

In brief, Saya said the management challenges presented by expanded virtualization are: the scale of virtualization expanse could overwhelm processes; the abstraction of the virtual layer from the physical can obscure visibility; the increasing mobility of IT creates complexity; and team boundaries break down between teams for servers, storage, networking, and other parts of IT.

In 2011, VMware introduced a trio of software suites intended to help better manage virtualization environments: VMware IT Business Management Suite, which helps IT financial matter management, service level agreements, and governance of the virtual/physical environment; vFabric Application Management Suite, which manages application provisioning and performance monitoring; and vCenter Operations Management Suite, which integrates performance, capacity, and configuration management and adds application discovery and dependency mapping capability. The trio of performance management suites was unveiled in October and should be widely available in early 2012.

VMware views virtualization as a three-phase journey for customers, Sayar said. Phase one is development of virtualization in production and realizing cost-efficiency gains. Phase two concerns delivering business-critical applications such as Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft Exchange and a high quality of service. Phase three is delivering comprehensive IT as a service.

Most of VMware's customer base, varying by geography or industry vertical, is between phases one and two. They are, on average, at 30% to 40% virtualized today and they want to reach the 50% to 60% phase in 2012, he said.

According to our Outlook 2012 Survey, IT should expect soaring demand but cautious hiring as companies use technology to try to get closer to customers. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: Inside Windows Server 8. (Free registration required.)