Killing complexity: New virtualization management strategies

As virtualized environments grow, administrators should automate virtual machine provisioning and consolidate multiple management tools to eliminate complexity and free time for higher-value virtualization management tasks.

This is the second article in a three-part series on the challenges of managing a growing virtualized infrastructure. This article covers two central challenges for virtualization administrators: manual provisioning and the problem of multiple management tools. Part one of this series covered the challenges of virtual server sprawl.
For more on managing growing virtual environments:
Curbing virtual server sprawl in growing virtualized environments

Which virtualization management tools should you buy?

As virtualization administrators attempt to expand a virtual infrastructure, they often face management challenges in provisioning servers, allocating resources to virtual machines (VMs) and the problems associated with using management tools from several different vendors.

In this article, we discuss how admins can address these management challenges through automated server provisioning and by consolidating their various management tools.

Inefficient server provisioning
IT managers frequently use existing and known provisioning processes to provision virtual servers – and, thus, often rely on manual methods. As a result, a newly deployed virtual server environment often involves slow and inefficient provisioning.

And much to IT admins' chagrin, they often serve as the designated gatekeepers: those responsible for prioritizing new VM requests and enforcing pre-approved provisioning processes. In a growing organization, the demand for virtual servers can quickly overwhelm IT resources. Administrators frequently rely on hypervisor element managers such as VMware vCenter Server to help with provisioning requests, but the complexity of such tools can inhibit administrative productivity. Proficient use of vCenter Server and similar tools requires days or weeks of training, which many smaller organizations postpone or forgo altogether.

As a result, manual provisioning processes are often cumbersome and unforgiving, creating errors that compromise the quality and consistency of VMs. This can result in the misallocation of resources and, perhaps, the need for a complete reconstruction of the VM. As the backlog grows and the pressure builds, the likelihood of error increases.

Automating server provisioning
To address the issue of inefficient provisioning, virtual infrastructure management products such as DynamicOps Virtual Resource Manager enable administrators to automate -- and significantly accelerate -- virtual server provisioning. These technologies provide self-service portals that allow users to provision new virtual machines and manage existing ones without the need for IT intervention.

Once a user has submitted the information required to request a new VM, the policy-based automation capabilities take over by rapidly creating the virtual server and provisioning it according to the policies specified in templates. These automated options streamline the provisioning process and eliminate many of the delays associated with manual processing, IT service lead times and reconfiguration due to the operational errors inherent in a manual provisioning process. They also eliminate admins' role as gatekeepers in a manual provisioning process.

With one such product, DynamicOps Virtual Resource Manager, Credit Suisse reduced provisioning times from several days to a matter of minutes. The banking giant was able to ensure quality and consistency of its VM builds, and groups within Credit Suisse are allocated sufficient resources to meet application requirements.

Consolidating multiple management tools
A growing virtual infrastructure also poses the challenge of administrative complexity. And to perform basic virtual infrastructure management functions, administrators typically use multiple tools, often from multiple vendors. Consider this example in the administration of a typical virtual desktop infrastructure. To deliver a virtual desktop, an administrator must create a VM (e.g., using vCenter Server); provision it (e.g., with Citrix Provisioning Server); register it with a connection broker (such as VMware View Manager, Citrix XenDesktop or Provision Networks Virtual Access Broker); and finally deploy it (e.g., using Symantec's Altiris Deployment or Acronis Snap Deploy products). In this example, four separate tools are needed and significant lead times are required between each operation.

Just having to use multiple tools is complex, but the need to integrate them into an existing management ecosystem adds yet another layer of complexity. Although users prefer tools that improve management efficiency and interoperate with current management offerings, most virtual infrastructure management tools do not integrate easily into existing environments, nor do they allow customers to maintain their current investment in management software. In sum, administrative complexity increases the cost of managing a virtual infrastructure while also slowing IT responsiveness.

But the latest generation of virtual infrastructure products enables administrators to perform a range of provisioning and management tasks that previously required several tools. In the case of Credit Suisse, an administrator can now employ a single management technology to create, provision, and deploy a new VM in a virtual desktop or virtual server infrastructure.

The DynamicOps tool interoperates with popular, single-function management and provisioning tools already on the market, including hypervisor element managers such as VMware vCenter Server. This approach enables customers to preserve their existing investment in software acquisition and training. Such virtual infrastructure management technologies help streamline and automate complex processes while alleviating the burden on administrators of manual and time-consuming tasks. These benefits in turn help reduce costs and free administrators' time to handle more strategic, higher-value projects.

In part three of this series, we'll look at examples of this new breed of virtual infrastructure management products. We'll also outline four key capabilities to look for when selecting a management product and predict how virtual infrastructure management technologies will evolve in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst at the Taneja Group, an analysis and consulting group focused on storage and storage-centric server technologies with a concentration in the developing area of virtualization. Byrne can be reached at jeff.byrne@tanejagroup.com.

And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

This was first published in March 2009

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