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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Virtual Machines Running Mission-Critical Workloads

Managing virtual machines, especially now that more of them they carry mission-critical workloads, remains a top concern among IT managers who have deployed virtualized servers in the data center, according to a survey on the floor of Interop in Las Vegas.

Managing virtual machines, especially now that more of them they carry mission-critical workloads, remains a top concern among IT managers who have deployed virtualized servers in the data center, according to a survey on the floor of Interop in Las Vegas.A survey of 105 Interop attendees who were network engineers and IT managers found that 61% had deployed virtualized servers in the data center, up from 55% at Interop 2009. Of those who have deployed virtualized servers, 36% said they were hampered by the lack of monitoring tools to help them with their deployments; 30% said they didn't have a problem.

Even among the latter group, I suspect, you could elicit some agreement that existing tools could be improved. The virtualization vendors pay attention to the management space, but they don't have the long term view of systems management vendors, such as BMC, CA, IBM and HP, for managing varied hardware. Nevertheless, 90% of those who have opted to virtualize part of the data center said they are now running mission critical workloads on it. This finding is likely to grow as more IT managers and database administrators come to realize it's possible to run database systems in virtual machines, something that's still an uncommon practice.

It appears to me that virtual machine management tools and virtualized server capacity management will become key sought after systems over the coming year. The virtualized servers can be lumped together and managed as a pool through a virtualization software layer. The pool of x86 servers in turn has the potential to become the core of a private cloud, in a manner I tried to lay out in "Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution," a McGraw-Hill book to appear May 14.

Earlier this year, an InformationWeek team visited Dell, where executives told us they were seeing interest in the private cloud mushroom. They had built up expertise in building servers suitable for public clouds and they expected to sell versions of those designs for the heavily virtualized environment of the private cloud.

So where will the best management tools for pools of virtualized servers come from? CA is moving quickly into private cloud capabilities through its acquisition of Oblicore, Nimsoft, 3Tera and NetQoS. BMC is already allied with Cisco Systems in managing the heavily virtualized environment represented by Cisco's Unified Computing Systems, which Taser used to build a police video evidence warehouse in the cloud. HP is assembling its own unified computing system approach, with the acquisition of 3Com. And IBM's Tivoli is being equipped to manage cloud services.

But some of the quickest new capabilities will come from small third parties who have specialized in the virtual machine management. Surgient, in Austin, Texas, is a seven-year-old firm that got its start in virtual lab management. A week before the Interop show, it displayed a Enterprise Cloud Dashboard at the International Cloud Conference & Expo in New York. Dashboards are nothing new, but Surgient is building capacity management into this one that graphically depicts what resources are being used and what remains available for use.

Traditional capacity management is focused on a set of historical statistics that reflect what's been used in the past and how likely you are to reach a threshold signaling you're approaching full capacity in the near future. Virtualized resources can more quickly be started up, shut down and moved around than physical resources, and that in turn requires virtual capacity to be viewed in a more real time, flexible manner than its physical counterpart.

Surgient isn't the only vendor active in this area. The Xangati Management Dashboard does something similar for the network traffic generated by virtual machines, and Vizioncore's vFoglight specializes in assessing virtual machine performance management. Abiquo and DynamicOps are bringing cross-hypervisor management tools to the party.

Some of these vendors will grow into major companies, given their position in the management stakes, and some will get acquired to help major companies grow. Either way, don't accept that what the biggest vendor has been able to do is the latest word in the state of the art of virtual machine management.

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