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Do I need to buy server virtualization management software?

Expert Brien Posey discusses seven factors to consider when deciding whether or not server virtualization management software would be beneficial for your company.

With a number of different vendors offering server virtualization management software, administrators must question whether such a product is a good fit for their organization. In doing so, there are seven primary considerations that should be taken into account.

1. What is the scale of your server virtualization deployment?

The first consideration that should be taken into account is the size of the virtualization infrastructure. Hypervisors such as VMware ESXi and Microsoft's Hyper-V include their own built-in management tool. Such tools can typically handle basic day-to-day tasks, such as creating, modifying and deleting virtual machines. Typically, however, the built-in management tool is not suitable for larger-scale environments.

In the case of Microsoft's Hyper-V, the built-in management tool, Hyper-V Manager, provides a server-centric view of the virtualization infrastructure. The Hyper-V Manager does not, however, provide a consolidated view of all of the hosts and VMs in the organization. The only way to get such a view is to either invest in an additional management tool or delve into PowerShell.

2. What virtualization management software is currently being used?

A second consideration to take into account is the virtualization software that is currently being used. Native tools that are included with a hypervisor are designed specifically to manage that hypervisor, but typically nothing else. This is fine for organizations that have built their virtualization infrastructure around a single vendor's products, but the use of a native tool is a less-than-optimal solution for organizations that use hypervisors from multiple vendors, because doing so would usually require the use of multiple tools.

Organizations that make use of hypervisors from multiple vendors do not necessarily have to invest in a third-party management tool, but doing so can be helpful. Not every virtualization management product offers multivendor support, but those that do offer a single-pane-of-glass interface for managing VMs across differing hypervisors. For example, Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager is able to manage Hyper-V, VMware and Citrix hosts, as well as the VMs that reside upon them -- although, there are some limitations.

3. What are your plans for future growth?

A third consideration that should definitely be taken into account is your plans for the future. Suppose, for instance, right now, you have a relatively small virtualization infrastructure consisting of a few hosts and a couple dozen VMs. Such an organization could likely be managed using the built-in management tools. However, if your organization is planning to add some additional host servers or create more VMs, then you may quickly outgrow your existing management tool.

Even if the organization does not necessarily have plans for growth, it is a good idea to look at the historical data for VMs created within your organization. If the historical data within your logs indicates the number of VMs has quickly increased, then it is a good bet VM proliferation will continue to be an issue in the foreseeable future. Even if you do not necessarily need a dedicated management tool today, it might be a good idea to begin looking at your options for the future.

4. How dynamic is the virtualization environment?

The fourth consideration that should be taken into account when evaluating your need for a server virtualization management product is the dynamic nature of your infrastructure. In other words, how quickly do things tend to change? This consideration revolves primarily around VM migrations, rather than planning for future growth.

Suppose, for instance, you have three virtualization hosts, and you rarely migrate a VM from one host to another. In that type of environment, the VMs are relatively static. It is easy to predict which host server a particular VM is going to be residing on at a given time because the VMs rarely move. Conversely, some server virtualization deployments contain VMs that frequently move from one host to another. Such frequent migrations might occur, for instance, as a part of a host load balancing or a power management strategy.

The bottom line is virtualization management software that does not provide a comprehensive view of the hosts and VMs in your organization will likely be ineffective in environments where VMs frequently move from one host to another. Such an environment would require an administrator to locate a VM prior to performing any sort of management task on it.

5. Can you accommodate a virtualization management product?

Another consideration that should be taken into account is whether your organization can accommodate a virtual server management product. First and foremost, you have to determine whether the organization can afford to license such a product, as licensing costs vary widely from one vendor to another.

In addition to the licensing costs, you will have to consider whether you have the hardware necessary to run the new management product and a sufficient training budget for teaching the IT staff how to use the management product. Training is critically important because server virtualization management products are not always intuitive.

6. Could your organization benefit from virtualization automation?

The sixth consideration for server virtualization management products is whether the organization might benefit from VM automation. Automation can come in a number of different forms. For example, some of the products on the market will allow you to script VM creation so preconfigured VMs can be generated on the fly. Another example of VM automation involves automatically consolidating workloads at night so some host servers can be shut down in order to conserve power.

7. What types of features do you need?

Finally, it is extremely important to consider the types of features you need. Some virtualization management products are exactly that -- management products. These products commonly allow you to create VMs and VM templates, change a VM's state, and create snapshots and other common day-to-day tasks. Some such products may also deliver self-service provisioning capabilities or allow an administrator to implement a chargeback system.

Other virtualization management software is oriented toward monitoring. Such products may not enable day-to-day VM management, but typically provide rich reporting that is designed to help with performance, service-level agreement compliance, capacity planning and problem remediation.

Conclusion

There are a number of considerations that have to be taken into account when deciding whether or not it is a good idea to invest in server virtualization management software. Although server virtualization management software can provide some very helpful capabilities, such a product might be overkill for smaller organizations or for organizations that are not heavily virtualized. Conversely, organizations that have a large number of host servers and VMs will almost certainly find that server virtualization management software improves the overall efficiency of managing the virtualization infrastructure once the IT staff gets past the initial learning curve.

Next Steps

What to look for when choosing virtualization management software.

Avoid these common virtualization management mistakes.

Learn more about virtual machine migration.

This was last published in July 2016

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