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Virtualization in 2012: Automation on the horizon

The following is an expansion on our 2012 predictions piece on virtualization management, which ran on last week.

As server virtualization becomes mainstream, vendors like VMware have to come up with a new return on investment (ROI) proposition to sell to customers, and experts say to be on the lookout for a new sales pitch around automation and operational savings.

“The purpose of automation is to create a new hard-dollar ROI for virtualization, basically opex savings by streamlining operations, as opposed to the old ROI which was capex savings that came from server consolidation,” said Bernd Harzog, analyst with The Virtualization Practice.

Consolidation ratios won’t be as high as mission-critical apps are virtualized, and so “in order for the virtualization freight train to keep rolling down the tracks, VMware needs a second, new incremental hard dollar ROI,” he said. “That’s going to come from this automation-driven opex savings delivered by vCenter Operations. And that’s going to shake up the management software industry in an extremely profound way.”

You can already see this in the aggressive stance taken by Quest subsidiary VKernel around the launch of its vOps 4.5 product, which features automation of certain tasks like the deletion of Zombie VMs.

“In the long term it will be a race between management suites, and with VKernel now part of Quest they certainly have a great shot at becoming one of the winning management suites,” Harzog said, if only because there are already a lot of vFoglight customers monitoring production VMware environments. .

But this begs the question – are IT pros ready to hand over the virtualization management reins to automation tools?

The answer seems to be a qualified yes – virtualization pros are beginning to explore automation tools, but in baby steps. “Interested? Absolutely. Ready for it? No,” said Maish Saidel-Keesing, a virtualization administrator for an Israeli technology company. “But we were also not ready once upon a time for using DRS to vMotion a VM from one place to another automatically. Show me one virtualization admin that does not use this feature today.”

“It will come,” said Saidel-Keesing. “But will take longer than 2012 for people to trust technology to remediate problems automatically.”

Virtualization management tasks like capacity and configuration management [AB1] will be the first beachhead for automation to establish itself within enterprises, users predict, while more critical tasks like provisioning will follow later.

“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with [automatically] creating new environments at this point, just because everything we seem to deploy has a lot of very intricate configuration,” said Philip Sellers, systems administrator for South Carolina-based Horry Telephone Cooperative (HTC), “But from the management side, I see that as the opportunity today.”

In Sellers’ shop, automation has begun to creep in in the form of vCenter Update Manager and vCenter Orchestrator. In fact, so attached is HTC to VUM that it’s delaying an upgrade to vSphere 5 because VUM will no longer support automated guest patching, Sellers said.

“On the Orchestrator side of things, we’re very new in that,” he added. “We’ve only had it in our environment for a month, two months…it’s doing some very general tasks like cloning on a weekly basis.”

Still, “we’ve been playing with some of the automation stuff, just trying to get a handle on it, because we see that’s the general direction we’re going as an industry.”

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