The Importance of Virtualization Lifecycle Management for Enterprises

Virtualization Lifecycle Management

While, virtual machines and server consolidation provides impressive and immediate ROI, it does not come without its challenges. According to Gartner, virtual machine (VM) "sprawl" is the number one concern when it comes to managing VM environments.   This article looks at VM sprawl concerns and the role that effective Virtualization Lifecycle Management (VLM) plays in preventing it from occurring in IT environments.

Most virtual servers begin by viewing a virtual machine as similar to a physical one, but without the hardware cost.  At the beginning of a virtualized deployment, virtual servers view a virtual machine the same as a physical one.   It quickly becomes clear that there are a number of significant differences between the two, making it easier to experience sprawl in the virtual world than in the physical one.

The differences:

  • Mobility - Physical machines rarely move but virtual machines move a great deal.  VMs also tend to change state (e.g. powered on or off) more than their physical counterparts – another aspect of mobility.
  • Volume - A fully configured virtual server can be created in minutes, meaning many are easily generated.
  • Identity - A physical server has a specific identity tied to its physicality that is usually attributed to the actual hardware.  A VM on the other hand is a great deal more ethereal.
  • Lifecycle velocity - VMs are created for many different reasons and life spans can be different lengths.  The speed at which a VM moves through all the stages of its lifecycle can range from minutes to years, while physical servers are more predictable.

These differences create problems for traditional datacenter management tools that tend to be built for the “physical world.”  VMs are miscounted and this lack of visibility is contributed to sprawl.

Sprawl is not defined by the number of virtual machines.  The definition of sprawl, “the proliferation of virtual machines without adequate IT control,” has more to do with control than numbers.  If growth is not controlled then the organization is in danger of sprawl.  

The combination of poor visibility, manual administration, lack of deployment process and the comparatively large volume of VMs all work together to make virtual sprawl more likely than server sprawl, and in some cases almost inevitable.  In no time, hundreds or thousands of virtual machines are running on the network, consuming memory, disk space and CPU cycles, half of which are lost track of or stand unknown why they were created in the first place.

This is especially true where multiple groups are creating VMs without centralized control.

Server and virtual sprawl are equally as expensive.  As with server sprawl, the costs with virtual sprawl start with wasted physical resources, including direct resources like systems, disk and memory, as well as indirect resources like power, air conditioning and rack space.

Add to this the direct cost of wasted software resources, including application(s), virtualization platform and operating system licensing, as well as the cost of any management agents that are deployed inside the VM.  Sprawl also creates increased administration costs due to the need to manually manage the environment.  

Having a larger environment than is necessary also creates increased risk for an organization.  Growing VM environments without adequate control provides a greater potential for unauthorized  or “rogue” VMs to creep into an environment unnoticed, or for unsupported OS's and applications to proliferate resulting in the potential for network, configuration, interoperability, performance, capacity or service-level conflicts.  With a wider variety of virtual machines in the environment when there is a need to re-create a virtual machine, there is a greater likelihood of creating one that does not comply with corporate standards or regulations.  

Virtualization Lifecycle Management is about the management and control of virtual machines throughout their lifecycle –which done correctly, adjusts for the uniqueness of the virtual server and ensures maintained control.

In order to be effective, you must manage and control VMs through all 3 stages of life:

1)    How (and where) they are “born”

  • Managing who can deploy virtual machines, and where they are allowed to be deployed allows for maintained control of the environment.  

2)    Identity and mobility while they are in the environment, (active or otherwise)

  • Allows a great deal of flexibility when it comes to control and policy enforcement
  • Enforces mobility policy on a VM by VM basis; ensuring only specific VMs can run within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
  • Provides information about VMs in the off-line state, allowing an administrator to make a decision about its fate

3)    How (and when) they “die”

  • Removes unused VMs, freeing up resources (hardware, software and admin), and removing unnecessary clutter from the overall view of the environment, making the management easier
  • Sets an expiry date when a VM is created and then uses this date to shut it down or question its continuing viability

There are a variety of new players entering the Virtualization Lifecycle Management marketplace with a range of products available.  Some use drivers or agents - which is not recommended given the necessary operational overhead and current maturity level of the technology - while others are non-intrusive.  Complete visibility including discovery and identity of virtual machines, along with the ability to manage and control them throughout their lifecycle is an essential prerequisite before it enters a production environment.  Most management tools provided by virtualization vendors are aimed mostly at simplified provisioning or deployment of virtual machines, and while they tend to do this well, they do not provide effective Lifecycle Management.  

By implementing Virtualization Lifecycle Management (VLM) early, control is upheld and sprawl never becomes a worry.  Given the dynamic nature of the virtual world, it is far easier to maintain control, than to regain control.  

About the Author

A well rounded 30 year veteran of the high tech marketplace with extensive P&L and international expertise in service, hardware and software products, David started his management career at Digital Equipment of Canada where he held numerous executive roles and won every award they offered. Prior to Embotics, David was VP Marketing for Apani Networks where he was responsible for their successful initial product launch, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Rainbow Technologies, where he rebuilt the marketing organization and increased sales, leading to its acquisition by SafeNet, Managing Director for Kyberpass Corporation and President at Cablecom International. David holds degrees in Nautical Science, Computer Technology and an MBA in strategic marketing.

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