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Ensure your data center is ready for a move to the cloud

Virtualization management can make or break your move to the cloud. Which tools should you consider as part of your strategy?

Even if your data center is virtualized, it's not ready for a move to the cloud until you ensure that it is organized, optimized and can be matched with the needs of your company's business units. Virtualization management tools have become increasingly powerful and now bring a virtualized environment closer to the cloud with automation, better cost visibility and greater flexibility.

Once you understand the critical role a virtualization management strategy plays in the data center, it makes sense that it would play just as critical a role in your move to a private, hybrid or public cloud. These tools help with cloud migrations in the following ways:

  1. Understand and report on your virtual infrastructure. Tools can tell you what you have in the virtual infrastructure, how it's configured and how it's organized. This is the most basic information you'll need to make the move to a cloud.
  2. Measure capacity utilization. Knowledge of CPU, memory, network and storage use is needed to price and configure future cloud environments. For example, how many IOPS do public-facing servers require when moved to a public cloud?
  3. Allow chargeback/showback. Virtualization management tools can tell you which business units within your company use the cloud infrastructure the most. This can help with managing funding for a future cloud investment.
  4. Provide cloud visibility. Some tools have visibility into existing virtual infrastructure and future private or public cloud infrastructure. This visibility is crucial during a migration process and also after servers have been migrated.
  5. Make the transition. Some virtualization management tools can help you make the move to the cloud by orchestrating virtual machine movement from a private environment to a public cloud.

By understanding the built-in capabilities of the virtual platforms you currently use, as well as the capabilities optional tools can offer, you increase your chances of selecting the best tools to aid in the move to the cloud.

Built-in management from major virtualization vendors

Before we delve into third-party tools, let's discuss the built-in cloud-related features you might have in your existing virtual infrastructure.

The hypervisor vendor provides not only the hypervisor, but also central virtual infrastructure management and some additional tools. For example, VMware offers vSphere (the hypervisor), vCenter (centralized management) and additional tools like vCloud Connector.

Microsoft has Hyper-V, System Center Virtual Machine Manager and Windows Azure Services on Windows Server. In the case of both VMware and Microsoft, the hypervisor and centralized management tools have an associated cost.

IT buyers should also research free or low-cost options in the cloud management space. For example, VMware users should review the capabilities of the free vCloud Connector -- which doesn't require the vCloud Suite or vCloud Director -- to help migrate to the cloud.

If you are building a private cloud with VMware's product, consider VMware vCloud Director, included in the vCloud Suite. Or, if you are using Microsoft Hyper-V to create a private cloud, the System Center Suite does virtualization management as well as integration with Azure for Windows to create a private cloud.

Additional built-in capabilities may include backup and recovery, disaster recovery, performance, management and monitoring tools, which may or may not include storage capabilities.

Most important, centralized management tools from major vendors offer application programming interfaces (APIs) for third-party tools to interface with the virtual infrastructure. In the case of VMware vCloud, the vCloud connector and vCloud Director use the vCenter API to provide their cloud-related features.

Additional tools and their features

Once you install a hypervisor and centralized management tool with the necessary API to expand functionality, you need to decide which other features you want as part of your virtualization management strategy. Keep in mind that these tools don't always come from third parties.

For example, VMware offers vCenter Operations Manager (vCOPs) to help you find out what you have, organize it and manage capacity use. The enterprise version of vCOPs can interface with System Center, vCloud Director and even operating systems or applications.

Microsoft has its System Center 2012 suite, which you can use to manage Hyper-V as well as VMware vSphere infrastructures, though not as effectively as a tool built for vSphere.

There are also numerous third-party virtualization management products to help you prepare for your move to cloud. Here are some of the more popular offerings:

  • Veeam One
  • Dell Foglight for Virtualization (offered in three editions, with two of them from vKernel's vOPS suite and the other from Quest Software's Foglight solution)
  • SolarWinds Virtualization Manager
  • Embotics management software
  • Cirba's system for virtual and cloud infrastructure
  • VMTurbo
  • Xangati virtualization management products

Additional reading on virtualization and cloud management

Virtualization, cloud computing and big data

Virtualization management for enterprise CIOs

The flexibility of moving to the cloud

However, don't confuse virtualization management tools with cloud management tools such as Cloupia and VMware vCloud Automation Center (vCAC). One focuses on the virtual infrastructure, while the other focuses on managing one or multiple cloud environments and may only function on the cloud management level instead of the virtualization management level.

Whether you are considering tools from major hypervisor vendors or from lesser-known third parties, here are some features that will enable a successful move to cloud:

  • Hypervisor support. Ensure that, at minimum, the tool supports the hypervisor that you currently use and plan to use in the future. Some companies are very interested in tools that support multiple hypervisors to avoid vendor lock-in and allow for hypervisor tiering capabilities.
  • Cloud compatibility. Think about the types of private and public clouds your virtualization/cloud management tools support and the vendors' plans. For example, VMware's vCloud Automation Center supports not only vSphere but also Hyper-V, XenServer, AWS, Azure, vCloud public and vCloud Director for private clouds.
  • Functionality. What does the tool do for you? Tool features range from simple monitoring and reporting to multi-cloud capacity management, automation and orchestration. Ask vendors pointed questions to understand how tools operate. The more you educate yourself on the various tools, the more you'll find that they have very different feature sets and may work in very different ways, even though they all fall into the broad category of virtualization management.
  • Usability. Too many tools have outdated user interfaces or claim to have capabilities that require you to write a script to use them. Find tools that are user-friendly.
  • Complexity. Watch out for tools that require "professional services" just to get them up and running. You want to be able to test and deploy a tool that isn't going to break the bank. Just because a tool is powerful, that doesn't mean it has to be difficult to deploy and use.

In part 2 of this series, David Davis offers tips for choosing the right management tools, and how these tools integrate with the cloud.

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