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Integrated IT management's measurable benefits for virtualized environments

Having sound integrated IT management principles to combat heterogeneous virtualization environment problems brings measurable benefits.

As virtualization's popularity grows, it has become commonplace for data centers to have heterogeneous virtualization environments. While practical, this type of deployment creates headaches for IT administrators, including managing multiple technologies from different vendors on numerous screens.

This setup forces IT staff to remember various command languages and/or guided user interfaces. Unfortunately, the easiest way is to just learn the basics of each platform, which means a firm has not received the best return on investment.

To combat these problems Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) stresses the importance of integrated IT management principles. I touched on heterogeneous virtualization environments in a 2008 survey of 627 respondents. In that case study, I identified a "virtualization complexity triple threat" where the average enterprise had the following:
  • four virtualization platforms (e.g., Windows, Unix , Linux, etc.);
  • four virtualization technologies (e.g., server, desktop, storage, etc.); and
  • four virtualization vendors (e.g., VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, etc.)

Most organizations have multiple virtualization platforms, technologies and vendors.

Physical server deployments are still prevalent and will mostly likely remain so through 2010. ·        
Most organizations dissolved their virtualization project teams and rely on multiple management teams to fill the void. ·      
Integrated management drives better virtual machine (VM) deployment time, admin-to-VM ratios, restore success, CPU utilization and floor space reduction, among other improvements. ·        

Integrated management solutions are still rare but becoming increasingly available from vendors.

Conversely, only 2% of the enterprises surveyed had a virtual environment with one platform, technology and vendor. Most of these firms, however, have diversified their data centers since the results were released.

EMA has also found that most organizations relied on physical environments. A majority of the enterprises polled will not adopt virtualization until 2010; many will never convert all their existing servers to virtualization. Although some reports claim more than half of new servers are virtualized, EMA finds that approximately 30% of existing servers have been virtualized.

Furthermore, only 21% of the respondents had a virtualization management team, and 33% centralized virtualization management in one department (typically, in the server management team).

Even when there was a virtualization project group, only 14% planned on maintaining that team. Instead, most organizations staffed from their existing server, OS, storage, network, security, and application teams with the intention of having IT staff members bring newly acquired knowledge back to their original groups .

The measurable benefits of integrated IT management principles
With the fragmentation of virtualization technologies and management within organizations, it should be no surprise that integrated IT management -- across multiple platforms, technologies, vendors, physical and virtual deployments, multiple management teams and disciplines – produced measurably better outcomes.

Focusing specifically on the virtualization management triple-threat, for example, EMA found that firms with management integration tools had the following:
  • A 20% greater chance of the highest physical resource utilization– with an average CPU usage of at least 70% (compared with an industry utilization average of 40%) – across virtualization platforms (i.e., Windows, Unix, Linux, etc.). They also were 25% more likely to produce best practice outcomes for backups and restores, with a 100% restore success rate following a system failure or change rollback.
  • A 25% greater likelihood of being a VM deployment "best performer" -- with VM deployment times of up to 240 times faster than a physical environment -- across various virtualization technologies (i.e., server, storage, network, etc.). Also, these firms are 16% more likely to be a CPU utilization best performer.
  • A 23% greater chance for backup and restore best practice outcomes, 23% more likely to be a virtual machine (VM) deployment best performer and 12% more likely to measurably reduce floor space and/or rent costs among virtualization vendors (i.e., VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, etc.)

Additionally, organizations that integrated management across virtual and physical systems had a 20% greater chance of being a top admin-to-server ratio performer, with administrators managing as many as 1,800 VMs. They were also 22% more likely to achieve best practice outcomes for dormant or orphaned VM images.

Subsequently, integrating management with existing tools, teams and disciplines correlated with a higher probability of being a best performer in the following categories:
  • admin-to-VM ratios (14% more likely);
  • VM deployment times (13% more likely);
  • power reduction (14% more likely); and
  • floor-space reduction (16% more likely).

The problem is that few tools integrate all these management vectors. Currently, the primary server virtualization vendors -- VMware, Microsoft and Citrix -- do not provide tools that bridge these gaps.

Some enterprise management vendors, however, have led the charge for integrated IT management. Consider the following:
  • CA's Virtualization Management initiative -- with solutions such as CA Spectrum Infrastructure Manager, CA Spectrum Automation Manager and CA eHealth Performance Manager -- integrates virtual systems management across the virtualization triple threat, as well as physical and virtual systems.
  • BMC Software's BSM for Virtualization initiative tackling virtual systems management by combining numerous products that integrate existing teams, tools and disciplines, including virtual lifecycle management, virtual performance management and virtual compliance management.
  • EMC's Ionix family connects multiple management disciplines across physical and virtual infrastructures, spanning network, applications, systems and storage management. This will help integrate IT service management objectives with an evolving set of solutions.
  • Some midsized vendors such as Novell (with its PlateSpin product line) and Quest (with its Vizioncore products) have also addressed the integrated management challenge across platforms, technologies, vendors, disciplines and physical systems.
  • Several smaller vendors, such as Tripwire (change and configuration management), Opalis (IT process automation), and Zenoss (performance and event monitoring), integrate specific disciplines across physical and virtual systems and among management teams.

The right product type – suite, midsized, or niche –varies depending on the organization. Similarly, the actual results achieved from integrated IT management will vary as well.

Andi Mann is the vice president of research, systems and storage management at the IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). Mann has over 20 years of IT experience in both technical and management roles, working with enterprise systems and software on mainframes, midrange, servers and desktops. Mann leads the EMA Systems Management research practice, with a personal focus on data center automation and virtualization. For more information, visit EMA's website.

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