Q

What are your biggest virtualization challenges?

Virtualization challenges are inherent to any deployment. If licensing, capacity planning and vendor bashing really grinds your gears, you’re not alone.

Even the best data centers have their share of virtualization challenges. The maturity of the technology has ironed

out many of the pain points, but some issues still persist, such as licensing, automation, capacity planning and backups.

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With that in mind, the Server Virtualization Advisory Board decided to vent their frustrations while responding to this month’s question:

What are your biggest virtualization challenges?

Maish Saidel-Keesing, NDS Group
There are two, noticeable virtualization challenges: licensing and vendor bashing.

Let’s start with the first one. As an admin, I like to deal with technology, but I am obviously not so into the bureaucratic aspect. The two parts of that dichotomy involve ordering new licenses (which is the easy part) and tracking renewals.

Purchasing licenses is as easy as whipping out your credit card, and you probably have a relationship with a partner/reseller where you can buy licenses. Of course, you have to find the best deal and make sure that you are buying what you need and not what someone wants to sell. Also, you need to see how you can save money.

But here is where it becomes fun: Most companies don’t buy licenses in bulk. Instead, they purchase licenses as needed. If you need a new host, you purchase new licenses. But it’s not smart to pay for licenses that won’t be immediately used. It’s similar to purchasing a car, which you will use next quarter. Additionally, the minute you register a license, the support contract starts ticking. 

Having to track and renew expiring contracts is also a pain! Some vendors have programs that allow you to "square up" once a year, such as Microsoft’s True-Up program. But most vendors don’t. As a technologist, I really dislike having to deal with all these administrative technicalities.

And, finally, there’s vendor bashing. For sales pitches, I prefer and actually insist that a sales rep concentrates on the product’s strengths. For example, why is your product better than the competition? I don’t want them to focus on why the competitor is bad or inferior. They should discuss how their product excels, not why others suck. That is my small request for trying to make the world a better place.

Greg Shields, Concentrated Technologies
I’d say that performance and capacity management are the most important and challenging aspects of working with virtualization. Or, more specifically, I’d say performance and capacity management without the right tools.

Without performance management, you’ve got no way to track down problems. You’ve also don’t have any recourse against claims that virtualization is the cause of service problems.

Capacity management is even more insidious. Without it, you can’t answer the question, “What resources do I have in relation to my VMs’ need?”

What many virtual administrators don’t realize, however, is that success in these two activities is nearly impossible without the right tools. But those tools aren’t part of your hypervisor’s management platform, although they may be sold by its vendor. Smart administrators realize that virtualization success requires spending a few, more dollars.

Christian Mohn, EVRY Consulting
Server virtualization has really matured to where the actual virtualization layer is seldom a challenge. It´s there. It works -- and very, very well, I might add. We no longer discuss the merits of virtualization, because it´s a natural part of every data center, even the really small ones. 

The challenges are often related to the environment connected to the hypervisor. Generally, host resources – such as CPU, memory, networking and storage -- cause the issues, and pinpointing a bottleneck’s root cause is often the challenge.

That being said, management and monitoring tools are quickly catching up, providing great feedback to the administrators and removing the need for “black magic” to troubleshoot virtualized environments. As virtualization matures, the day-to-day operations and management will get easier and less prone to administrator error. In short, the industry is heading in the right direction.

The biggest pain point, as far as I can see, is licensing for the virtualization solution, management tools, operating systems and applications inside the VMs. Keeping up with the different licensing schemes is very time consuming. And, by nature, licensing terms and conditions are inherently complex.

Each vendor treats virtualization differently, based on which hypervisor is used. Add VDI into the mix, and you´ve got a quagmire of licensing terms.

But do you know what’s the absolute worst part of working with virtualization? You no longer get to physically destroy a misbehaving server after it´s been decommissioned. All you get is the limited satisfaction of deleting a VM. While it’s much more effective, it is surely not as satisfying.

Jack Kaiser, Focus Technology Solutions
I asked Brad Maher, solutions architect at Focus Technology Solutions, for his take. Here’s his response:

I would say backup is the biggest virtualization challenge. Licensing for backup can be very complex, especially when tier-one applications are involved. Often times, there are great applications for VM-image backups, but they fall short when it comes time to tape out or perform file- or mailbox-level restores.

You also need to answer several questions. For example, where to store the backups can be an issue -- especially if there is an offsite requirement. If there is an offsite requirement, do I use tape or disk? Is a deduplication appliance right for me? If so, how do I size it for the amount of data? Should I do a LAN-based or SAN-based backup? If I am not 100% virtualized, how can I get a backup solution that meets the needs of the physical environment as well as the virtual environment?

This was first published in June 2012

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