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Rolling Review: Virtualization Management

We kick off a Rolling Review of four products that aim to tame virtual servers.

As the new year rolls in, budgets are still extremely tight, and IT managers continue to ride the "do more with less" train. One of the first stops on that line is virtualization. As enterprises look to cut costs, the server consolidation enabled by virtualization is a no-brainer. Companies are running a variety of production systems in virtual environments, and in a recent InformationWeek Analytics survey of 391 business technology professionals, 54% of respondents said they plan to virtualize between 50% and 100% of their organizations' servers by the end of 2011.

Instead of asking when you'll incorporate virtualization into the data center, the question is how you're going to manage a combined physical and virtual environment.

It's an important consideration. Because server virtualization makes it so easy to spin up a guest operating system to run an application, and because you can reduce the number of physical servers you have to maintain, it's tempting to think that virtualization makes the IT environment less complex.

It doesn't. In fact, the ease with which VMs can be created may actually lead to problems around VM sprawl. All the barriers to provisioning physical servers in the old deployment model--purchase approval, build requests, network connectivity, physical reviews--can be leapfrogged by a zealous server admin responding to a business exec's demands. With just a few clicks and a minimum of configuration info, you can deploy a new VM for a development team or business unit. Such quick provisioning will make both IT and the business happy, but without oversight, these VMs can be easily forgotten. And orphaned VMs still consume server and network resources and may become the entry point for an enterprising intruder.

And sprawl is only the tip of the iceberg. Every VM brought online requires a proper allocation of resources, from I/O to storage. The hypervisor, guest OS, and apps will need patches and software upgrades.

And lest you forget about this quarter's visit from your friendly neighborhood auditor, virtualization isn't a magic wand that makes your organization's compliance and security policies disappear. Quite the opposite. A virtual environment may require additional oversight. That's because the hypervisor is yet another software layer that can be exploited, and VMs can communicate with one another without that traffic passing through your carefully constructed security and packet inspection systems.

And given the ease with which a virtual machine can move from one physical host to another, just keeping track of where a VM actually lives can be tricky.

The fact is, VM management tools are crucial for success in large virtualized environments. Without a management framework, organizations may find that their virtual infrastructures expose them to a variety of risks, from data loss and unauthorized exposure to compliance failures to application outages brought on by unbalanced VM provisioning.

InformationWeek: January 18, 2010 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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