A Shaky Virtual Stack

Our InformationWeek 2013 Virtualization Management Survey shows automated service delivery is the future -- unless you want to find yourself managing cloud providers.
The Road Forward

As you move toward a fully virtualized stack, don't be too quick to discard established IT organizational structures. Rigid delineation into service delivery teams with specific responsibilities came into being for a reason. One big driver: compliance. Delegation-of-authority initiatives demand accountability, and that demands data structures. Two-thirds of our respondents say they are subject to some form of regulation, and many also say server, storage, desktop, and application virtualization are important to maintaining that compliance.

To ensure role flux doesn't adversely impact security, use virtualization-specific management tools to regulate, monitor, and log infrastructure changes. Embrace the role-based access control capabilities native to modern virtualization platforms, and use configuration profiles and policy management tools to confirm that controls extend throughout the stack.

In addition, select supplemental I/O, application, and network hypervisors judiciously. While these technologies aren't being virtualized as fast as core resources such as storage and server, anywhere from one-fifth to nearly one-third of respondents are actively evaluating them. If we aggregate the "evaluating," "limited use," and "extensive use" categories, more than half of respondent companies are adopting the entire beautiful, fragmented virtualization stack, extending from storage and network right on up through servers, desktops, and applications.

Yes, the "extensive use" category rankings are somewhat low. But for that, vendors have only themselves to blame. Data centers are suffering from the kinds of problems that these technologies could solve, if only IT felt comfortable that they could integrate everything.

This statistic brings into sharp relief a problem we've already discussed but that bears repeating--you must make all these moving pieces work together in a way that is meaningful to service delivery. You can't depend on vendors here; the industry is handicapped by a lack of common hypervisor communication standards.

While VMware has continued to revise and update its proprietary communications APIs, the adoption rate by other vendors is pitiful. When looking at storage-assisted virtualization operations, for example, only a few storage arrays are fully API compliant; we're looking at you, FalconStor and Hewlett-Packard.

Our survey also showed a stall in storage virtualization use. Part of this is, we think, due to virtualization features being absorbed into standard array feature sets. Things such as deduplication, automated performance tiering, and dynamic I/O allocations are no longer found only in expensive virtualized arrays; commodity storage vendors are now offering such features on a variety of inexpensive equipment.

Finally, while Oracle and VMware have attempted to supplement network and I/O virtualization capabilities with their acquisitions of Xsigo and Nicira, respectively, the only external network equipment with direct hypervisor integration that we're aware of remains the Cisco Nexus series, which is nearly 4 years old.

In short, don't expect integration without extraordinary elbow grease.

We admit to being floored by the number of respondents using network virtualization--11% say they're using it extensively and 24% on a limited basis. We're guessing the "limited use" category is data center-only deployments, but an aggregate 34% adoption rate of what is essentially an early-stage technology speaks extremely well for the future of SDN.

It's clear why respondents see value in network virtualization--configuring services across disparate devices is extremely difficult without vendor-specific network management products. Network virtualization, therefore, figures strongly in compliance initiatives and can pay for itself via faster incident resolution and new deployments and lower management costs.

Network virtualization also has a huge leg up on other virtualization technologies for one reason: OpenFlow. By embracing a standard network virtualization protocol stack, vendors have made it substantially easier for diverse devices to interoperate. Other virtualization vendors could take a lesson.

chart: Does your company use more than one hypervisor in production?

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