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The virtualization admin role redefined

As more organizations move to hybrid cloud, multi-hypervisor and multi-cloud environments, virtualization administrator responsibilities evolve to accommodate those changes.

Not long ago, the virtualization admin was tasked with managing virtualized workloads running in the data center...

and with maintaining the underlying virtualization infrastructure. While these tasks are still part of the job, server virtualization has evolved to the point that it's barely recognizable from what it was less than a decade ago. As virtualization technology changes, so too does the virtualization administrator's role. Excluding containers, there are three main architectural changes that have redefined the job.

Hybrid cloud equates to self-service IT

The first of these architectural changes is the adoption of hybrid cloud environments. Hybrid cloud is loosely defined as the convergence of public and private cloud resources. However, this definition neglects the main reason why hybrid cloud has had such a significant impact on the virtualization admin's role.

The primary reason why hybrid cloud adoption is having a dramatic impact is because it represents a transition to self-service IT. In a hybrid cloud environment, authorized users throughout the organization take on the role of virtualization admins for their own workgroup or department. These users are free to create, modify or delete VMs as their business needs dictate.

Thankfully, this transition hasn't made the role obsolete. It does, however, mean that the job has changed. Rather than spending their day creating VMs, virtualization admins in organizations that have adopted hybrid clouds focus most of their attention on the underlying infrastructure.

The virtualization infrastructure is a key business asset, and so, the virtualization administrator must ensure its reliability. In addition, he or she is responsible for tasks such as capacity planning, ensuring that the infrastructure is meeting service-level agreements, verifying regulatory compliance and managing VM templates.

Multi-hypervisor challenges skill sets

The primary reason why hybrid cloud adoption is having a dramatic impact is because it represents a transition to self-service IT.

A second trend that has taken hold over the last few years is the tendency toward multi-hypervisor environments. Until a few years ago, almost nobody used multiple hypervisors, because VMware was the only realistic choice for the enterprise. However, Microsoft completely made over Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012, and by the time that Windows Server 2012 R2 was released, Hyper-V was widely regarded as a mature, enterprise-class hypervisor. Some organizations that had previously relied exclusively on VMware began to adopt Hyper-V as a way of lowering costs. Other organizations might have ended up with multi-hypervisor environments as a result of mergers or other business activities. Whatever the reason, multi-hypervisor environments have become increasingly common.

The transition to a multi-hypervisor environment doesn't really change the virtualization admin's role very much. They are still responsible for building VMs and maintaining the back-end infrastructure, just as they were in the past. What has changed, however, is the virtualization admin's required skill set.

There is a surprising degree of overlap in functionality between Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere. Both hypervisors provide the same core functionality -- although each hypervisor also has its own unique features. Even so, the administrative interfaces couldn't be more different. Furthermore, Microsoft and VMware use completely different vocabularies to describe hypervisor features. For example, VMware provides a snapshot feature that can be used to revert a VM back to a previous state. Hyper-V also has this capability, but Microsoft calls them checkpoints.

From an administrative point of view, the biggest impact resulting from the adoption of multi-hypervisor environments might be the need to learn each hypervisor vendor's unique nuances.

Multi-cloud requires purchasing prowess

Just as VMs can run on premises, cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft also offer a platform for hosting VM instances. In recent years, however, the real challenge for virtualization admins isn't supporting VMs in the cloud but rather supporting a multi-cloud environment.

From an administrative standpoint, multi-cloud environments demand a commanding knowledge of software-defined networking. Perhaps just as importantly, however, virtualization administrators must take on the role of shoppers.

Each cloud provider has its own way of doing things. Amazon might, therefore, be the best at providing a certain cloud-based service, while Microsoft does a better job providing a different service. Virtualization administrators will need to determine not only which cloud provider will best meet their needs on a service-by-service basis, but they will also need to take cost into account since each provider prices their services differently. Remember, it isn't just the cost of the VM that matters, but also external costs, such as cloud storage and access to database services. Virtualization admins will, therefore, need to become adept at finding the best functionality for the best price.

Next Steps

Overcome container management challenges

Understand new IT job requirements

Keep your virtualization skills fresh

This was last published in November 2017

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