Jan 18 2011

Management Tools Mature

Two state government IT organizations find solutions to virtualization management issues.

February 2011 E-newsletter

Server Sense

Management Tools Mature

The Capacity Plan

A Powerful Combination

When the state of Utah moved to server virtualization, CIO Stephen Fletcher realized that managing a virtual environment was going to present quite a challenge to his IT staff.

That's why Fletcher took the opportunity to put performance management tools in place using VMware in a primarily HP environment. There are some IBM blade components in place, but mostly it's HP, he says.

One of the big challenges was training.

 "Folks had to get used to the tools," Fletcher says. "In the old days, with mainframes, you had performance tuners and capacity planners. Those same skills are required when you configure your virtual systems, so you have to get [the staff] trained on how to allocate storage and CPU cycles."

Utah state government is a typical example of an organization that has invested considerable resources in server virtualization, which poses its own set of management issues, including virtual sprawl, maximizing server capacity, preventing downtime, and provisioning and configuring virtual machines. 

Virtual sprawl is one issue that's become a major challenge for IT organizations, says Alan Dayley, managing vice president of the infrastructure software market research team for Gartner. When IT departments managed mostly physical boxes, it could take several weeks to bring up a system, he adds. Today, virtual machines can be provisioned in a matter of seconds. 

"Now it's just a matter of a few mouse clicks," Dayley says, adding that while this provisioning speed lets IT departments work faster, save on physical boxes and reduce energy costs, it also creates the potential for server sprawl. 

"All of a sudden, where you might have had 500 physical servers, you have 800, 1,000 or 1,200 virtual machines because they're so easy to bring up and utilize," he says. "Trying to manage that has turned into a bit of a nightmare."

Added Pressure

Along with server sprawl, issues such as capacity planning and migration management are putting pressure on IT staff, Dayley says.

"The bad habits in the physical world just get that much more magnified once they come to a virtual world because there are so many more moving parts, and IT staff just didn't think about it," he says.

Dayley says as organizations experience management issues with virtualization, they are turning primarily to their manufacturers for solutions. VMware has responded by adding features let IT departments provision, deploy, configure and maintain their virtual environments. For instance: The ability to move a running virtual machine from one physical host to another, dynamic workload balancing and instant provisioning are all features that allow IT staff to move resources around dynamically as demand changes for an application.

Offerings from software companies such as CA, BMC, HP and IBM also are available, as well as new products such as Hyperic HQ, which lets IT staff monitor all virtual machines from a single source; and the SolarWinds Orion Network Performance Monitor, which quickly detects, diagnoses and resolves performance issues.   

PG Narayanan, assistant commissioner for enterprise technical services for the state of Minnesota, finds that the capacity management capabilities offered in new virtualization software are an important benefit.   

Although Minnesota is just starting to use the latest software, he says the management tools offered through VMware help significantly in terms of monitoring and managing resources.  

"I could have some application running on a Monday morning at 10 a.m., and I can give more resources to that application than to something else," he says.

Narayanan advises a go-slow approach. "There's just nothing better than trying out one of the noncritical apps first and then moving on to the next," Narayanan says. That approach also offers the ability to take advantage of training options and apply the skills learned, he adds.

The percentage of CIOs who say they are avoiding using virtualization for certain mission-critical workloads because of concerns about backup and recovery

SOURCE: "VMware Data Protection Report 2010," Veeam

Planning is also important, says Utah's Fletcher.

"Before you start your planning, you have to have a baseline," he says. "You have to have an understanding of where all of your servers are located, where all of your apps are, how they're performing, and what pieces they touch so that when you virtualize them you know what the expected performance is."

Gartner's Dayley says virtualization management expenditures are going to be the biggest issue for IT organizations this year. In the past, IT departments focused on adding higher-level servers or more storage.

"Now those management tools are the key driver," he says. "Virtualization is a nonstop train. Without proper management, it's a train that can easily be derailed."

Room for Improvement 

Forrester, a technology and market research company, recommends three process improvements to exploit energy savings potential from server virtualization. By optimizing these three processes, Forrester estimates that organizations can cut their server energy costs 27 to 65 percent.

  • Make sure you are actually saving energy. The best way to do this is to turn off or decommission servers that are no longer running any workloads.
  • Increase the VM-to-physical host and server utilization levels. This decreases the total number of physical servers and reduces energy consumption. 
  • Run the virtual environment on more energy-efficient servers and architectures. Forrester recommends seeking newer models of the same servers the organization already purchases.