This content is part of the Essential Guide: Cut data center sprawl to improve IT capacity

How can I prevent sprawl and VM lifecycle problems?

Discovering which VMs are necessary and which are just taking up space can be difficult if you don't have a strategy in place.

The concept of VM lifecycle management is based on the idea of business need and value. Every VM consumes some amount of computing resources within the enterprise. If the VM is active and producing useful work for the business then the VM is deemed to have value. If the VM is idle or not doing anything useful (such as an abandoned test and development project) then the VM is generally deemed wasteful.

However, tools that examine VM lifecycle, by tracking resource usage and activity levels can help IT professionals spot potential waste. For example, an active VM will typically use network and disk resources. When a VM does not use network or disk resources (nobody is using the VM) for some prolonged period of time, there is a strong possibility that the VM is unneeded -- and possibly contributing to sprawl. A tool like Netwrix Auditor, SolarWinds Virtualization Manager and others can point out these low-utilization VMs and prompt IT staff to investigate.

Investigations normally involve the VM owner (such as human resources, test and development, sales or other business units) which originally requested the VM. Discussions often center on current needs and usage as well as future plans. When a consensus reveals that the VM is no longer useful, IT can make plans to safely decommission the VM and make its resources available to other VMs. If investigation suggests that the VM is underused or idle for some other reason, such as performance problems or other hardware/software dependencies that have not yet been met, then IT can take steps to address technical concerns, boost performance, or prioritize additional work to drive the idle VM forward.

The takeaway here is that tools can help spot idle or underused VMs, but it takes investigation to understand and address the reasons why. It is the result of such investigation that will determine whether a VM is needed and how its disposition should be handled.

Tools can certainly simplify VM lifecycle tracking and improve resource usage, but tools alone do not guarantee a desirable result. It's important to test prospective tools thoroughly before making a financial investment and business commitment -- and then ensure proper training in the tool's use for all IT staff. In many cases, VM management is coupled to business policies and goals, so be certain that hardware and resource use is consistent with business expectations. This is a key aspect to managing VM sprawl and keeping computing costs in line.

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