The speed and ease with which virtualization allows new servers to be deployed is taxing the management tools and processes developed for an all-physical world, possibly mitigating some of the benefits derived from server consolidation.
At least, that's what Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International Inc. found after conducting more than 50 in-depth interviews with virtualization users of x86, Unix and mainframe platforms. Iams will present his findings next week at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo conference in a session entitled "How Virtualization Impacts Systems Management."
Iams observed a strong need for better tools among users of x86 virtualization software like VMware and Xen from XenSource Inc., and the need can be traced directly to the explosion of systems that virtualization has spawned.
"The burden of creating new systems has decreased," Iams said. "Server requisition has shrunk from weeks down to hours," and users are catching on and asking for new servers and applications left and right. Thus, with virtualization, "your hardware costs go down, but your management costs could go up because you suddenly have a lot more systems."
The systems management upshot
An obvious way to ease the management burden of creating lots of systems is to invest in provisioning tools; these tools not only help you create a server -- which tools like VMware's VirtualCenter already do -- but also "populate it with its OS and applications and perform ongoing maintenance of that stack over its lifecycle," Iams said.
To a certain extent, of course, these tools exist today. But according to Iams, "it's a question of scalability." Without naming names, Iams said that "some well-known systems management frameworks have buckled … under the sheer load of virtual servers." To that end, Iams commended Hewlett-Packard Co. for its Opsware acquisition last week, as the product "has been proven to work well managing large numbers of virtual servers," said Iams.
VMware users and others also need "better visibility into the flow of resources that make up the virtual and physical stack," Iams said. As it stands, "the pipeline of resources has become longer and more complex," and without "end-to-end oversight into the state of resources, it's hard to figure out where a bottleneck is."
In an ideal world, users' existing virtualization tool sets would provide these provisioning and monitoring capabilities. While the users Iams talked to were "pretty rational" about the need for new tools, for the most part, "they tend to want to continue using the same tools they used before," Iams noted.
"It's not that they don't have anything; they just want more of it," Iams said.
Virtualization on Unix and mainframes
It should be noted that the systems management dynamics Iams unearthed for Unix virtualization technology users differed completely from those of mainframe virtualization technology users. (e.g., LPAR, and z/VM).
On the x86 platform, virtualization remains largely a consolidation play, usually for workloads that don't vary much, Iams said. On Unix and mainframe systems, howeer, "there are a lot fewer systems being virtualized, so you don't see the same massive levels of consolidation." And the systems that are being virtualized tend to run mission-critical applications whose performance characteristics vary widely over time. As an example, Iams cited a business app that spikes once a year before the holidays.
In the past, Iams said, IT shops' only option was to over-configure the physical host to support maximum application usage. Nowadays, with resource-shifting virtualization technology, IT professionals can take a series of two or three applications that all spike at different times and host them on a single server that's been configured for the average workload. This saves shops the cost of two additional servers; and in Unix environments, that can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Given the mission-critical nature of workloads running on Unix, Iams gathers that there is a high level of confidence in the virtualization software. Admins, he said, "have enough trust in the virtualization software that they [a]re willing to shift resources online. And I did not find that same level of trust in the Windows camp."
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