IT Managers Need To Realize That Virtualization Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

by drjim on June 9, 2011

Image Credit Sure Virtualization Seems Neat In The Beginning, But…

Sure Virtualization Seems Neat In The Beginning, But…

To read the IT trade journals or speak with IT managers you’d think that we’ve all found the magic silver bullet that IT’s been looking for during the past few years: server virtualization. The ability to mash together a bunch of different expensive individual servers and shrink the company’s IT footprint down by a factor of 5x while reducing power and cooling costs at the same time sure seems to be a miracle cure for IT budget problems. Guess what: this isn’t Hogwarts and you’re not Harry Potter. Virtualization has its own set of problems and we need to have a talk…

What Is Virtualization?

So first off, let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page here with our understanding of just exactly what this virtualization thing is. In the past, IT teams used to set up a new server for each new application that they wanted to deploy. This resulted in the team having to maintain farms of servers that were all horribly underutilized.

The arrival of virtualization software changed everything. This low level software allowed multiple applications to run on the same physical hardware but believe that they had the box all to themselves. Now you could combine multiple individual servers into a single physical box. Things like what operating system an application used no longer mattered – you could mix and match to your heart’s content.

Problem: Virtual Machine Sprawl

Evangelos Kotsovinos has taken a close look at just exactly what it means to introduce lots of virtual machines into a company’s IT infrastructure. What he’s found is that although IT managers might think that this changes everything, it doesn’t.

It turns out that managing a virtual machine (VM) takes roughly the same amount of effort that managing a real box does. When you couple this with the fact that it has become so easy to set up new VMs, what you’re seeing is unconstrained virtual machine sprawl.

IT teams are struggling to keep up with more and more VMs as staff set them up and then forget about them. Every IT manager now needs to come up with a VM reclamation solution.

Problem: Scaling

The very newness of VMs is causing IT teams to encounter a whole new set of management headaches. In the old days, IT teams had developed the tools and processes that they needed in order to deal with building large groups of new servers or handling a planned data center maintenance activity.

The arrival of VMs has upset this carefully established way of doing things. The problem is that often the VM management tools aren’t able to scale up to the size of enterprise operations. This leaves IT teams struggling to find ways to manage the beast that they have created.

Problem: Troubleshooting

There’s something deeply satisfying about tackling a system problem when you have the physical box in front of you. You know that you can always reach out and swap out various components if you have to. The same is not true when you’ve virtualized all of your servers.

Kotsovinos points out that a VM is really a collection of interconnected physical subsystems: server, storage, and network. When you are dealing with a system problem, like a slowdown, it’s going to require a whole new set of skills to track down what’s really going on. Additionally, virtualization is so new that often the right tools to do this type of trouble shooting may not exist yet.

Problem: Silos

Think about how your teams are set up today. Generally we draw lines between various disciplines based on what they do: the Unix team, the Windows team, the storage guys, the network guys, etc. The arrival of virtualization in the data center is going to screw all of this up.

The reason that virtualization can cause such a disruption is because issues that have to do with the VMs more often than not involve all of the various disciplines. No longer will the storage team be able to just focus on storage issues. Instead, they are going to have to work together with several other teams in order to try to solve complex problems.

What All Of This Means For You

Server virtualization is a fantastic discovery. However, IT Managers need to realize that it’s not going to make all of their problems go away.

Instead, virtualization is going to end up replacing one set of problems with another. These will include potentially unchecked virtual machine sprawl, scaling issues, more challenging troubleshooting, and a breakdown in the IT silo structure.

Face it, virtualization is going to take over both the IT back office and probably the IT front office eventually. IT Managers need to understand that as this occurs, we’re all going to have to adjust how IT teams are run in order to meet the new set of demands that virtualization is going to put on us…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think is the best way to keep virtual machine sprawl from getting out of hand?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Here’s a quick quiz for you: is workplace tension a good thing or a bad thing? No matter how you answered this question, that tension thing is always there – a constant presence in the workplace. It’s how you choose to deal with it that will have the greatest impact on your team’s performance…

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