Deploying and migrating virtual machines faster with VSM tools

Migrating and deploying virtual machines can be faster and less of a hassle with virtual systems management tools such as inventory management and patch distribution software.

One of the most significant drivers for server virtualization implementation is IT shops' ability to make server deployment and configuration faster and more efficient. According to 2008 research by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) speeding server provisioning was the second highest reason for using server virtualization, topped only by server consolidation.

In this tip, we discuss how virtual systems management tools can speed virtual machine (VM) migration and deployment and ease compliance, monitoring, and other management hassles.

Faster virtual machine deployment

Recent EMA research looked at several key performance indicators (KPIs) for virtual system deployment and what helps drive the best performers in each KPI. Two of the most important KPIs we measured were new virtual machine (VM) deployment time and VM migration time.

Among respondents, the best performers could provision a new VM -- from the initial request to final handover to the requestor -- in less than 30 minutes. With sophisticated virtual machine provisioning, VM templates and other management tools, this seems easy. But to maintain audit control and compliance, prevent VM sprawl, and ensure efficient use of hardware and software resources, strict standards must be applied to all new VMs. So it is more difficult to do deploy new VMs properly than it might seem. Indeed, the average deployment time was between two and five hours.

EMA research findings
  • New virtual machine deployment time and VM migration time are two important KPIs to measure IT agility: a leading driver for virtualization.
  • Faster VM deployment is strongly correlated with VSM tools for discovery and inventory management, OS provisioning and patch distribution.
  • Faster VM migration is strongly correlated with VMS tools for virtual machine management and OS and application provisioning.
  • Integration of physical and virtual, host and guest, and multiple virtualization technologies is also highly correlated with faster deployments.
The best performers were likely to use discovery and inventory management software (such as BDNA Insight or Hyperic HQ Enterprise), which allows administrators to quickly (and even automatically) locate available servers, hosts, and software licenses for new deployments without breaching compliance obligations or rummaging through remote terminals, virtualization control consoles, server and VM logs, and asset spreadsheets.

These IT shops were also much more likely to use operating system provisioning software such as BMC BladeLogic Operations Manager and IBM Tivoli Provisioning Manager. After all, not every image can be cloned, and sometimes a completely new image must be provisioned. Automated virtual machine provisioning is fast and generally error-free, and -- when cloning isn't suitable (especially for broader automated processes) -- it will certainly speed deployment.

Interestingly, the use of patch distribution software, such as VMware vCenter Update Manager or Microsoft Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), also sped deployment. This is especially important if you do not regularly patch individual 'golden' images -- you can include patch management agents in the base images so patch updates run automatically at VM startup, shortening the time between startup and delivering a fully patched machine.

Faster virtual machine migration
Contrary to commonly held belief -- and vendor hype -- VM migration is not always a rapid and automatic process. Although the median VM migration time in EMA's research is actually two to five hours, the top 10% of virtual enterprises can migrate a VM in less than 30 minutes, and many do so even more quickly.

These best performers were significantly more likely to use virtual machine management technologies such as VMware VMotion and Citrix XenMotion. Such tools make migration a no-brainer and faster than any manual process by far, with no perceivable downtime.

Even so, not all VM migration will (or can) be fully automated. This explains why best performers were much more likely to be using automation solutions for OS and application provisioning such as Altiris Server Management Suite and HP Server Automation (download PDF). Automatic OS and application provisioning will shorten the time from initial VM allocation to full production when clones will not do the job.

Integration capabilities
Using virtual systems management (VSM) tools that integrate across multiple areas also improves VM deployment times, according to EMA's research.

The greatest benefit appears to come from VSM tools that operate across both physical and virtual environments. This helps not just with racking and stacking of new equipment (even virtual infrastructures need new hardware now and then) but also with tracking licenses, provisioning software and applying updates across the entire enterprise, allowing faster workflow from request to handover for a new server environment.

The next best outcome is associated with integrated virtual host and guest management. When you integrate provisioning of new virtual host resource pools with cloning and deployment of new VMs, it takes more manual steps out of the deployment process, again speeding up the workflow from request to handover.

Finally, integrated management for all the virtualization technologies in use also helps improve deployment times. Provisioning resources such as servers, storage or network all from one screen (and with one skill set) speeds up deployment by allowing a single administrator to complete the whole job, without delays from other departments searching for resources to do the work.

VSM: No silver bullet
Of course, as with other VSM capabilities, these outcomes are not magical. The tools themselves won't make the difference; they must be applied judiciously, to address specific problems, and alongside often-needed changes in people and process. Other methods can improve deployment times -- such enterprise-wide software licenses that save the time wasted in procuring new licenses for each new VM.

But EMA research has found the approaches to VSM outlined here have clear benefits in terms of faster virtual server deployment and migration and they should certainly be considered as part of a broader VSM strategy.

Andi Mann is a research director at IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates Inc. Mann has over 20 years of IT experience in both technical and management roles, working with enterprise systems and software on mainframes, midrange, servers and desktops. Mann leads the EMA Systems Management research practice, with a personal focus on data center automation and virtualization. For more information, visit EMA's website.

This was first published in July 2009

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