Virtualisation: Realising the benefits
T departments are being pressured to cut costs, and yet deliver more services faster and better than before. Some businesses have turned to virtualisation to meet these challenges. However, even those that have not will find that virtualisation is seeping into their IT systems. By their very nature, virtual machines are simple to deploy - unlike physical server boxes, they can be implemented without anyone noticing. As a result, IT managers often either don't realise the full extent of proliferation throughout the data centre or haven't the time to deal with it. Whichever is the case, a strategic decision has not been made. Prior to virtualisation taking off, server mis-management had the potential to destroy an organisation's capability without the correct strategies in place, virtualised environments will go the same way.
While many businesses acknowledge virtualisation's important role, few actually have a strategy covering all the operational and technical aspects. Without a strategy in place, a loss of control is inevitable, leading to increased operational complexity, risks to services and increased costs. Businesses must, therefore, consider the key challenges of managing virtualised environments and carefully weigh up the impact virtualisation will have.
Firstly, server utilisation must be carefully managed. As more environments are placed onto single machines, the servers themselves will be pushed harder, with less room for error. To maintain performance and avoid downtime, servers will require careful and constant management to detect potential problems.
It is not enough to simply rely on current management processes to police the new environments. Traditional change and configuration management processes such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) are not designed for virtualised environments where services can be moved as required, so need further adaptation. Businesses will also need to consider how they back-up and restore virtual machines.
Securing these multiple environments on the same physical server will also be a significant challenge that needs to be considered. Virtualisation has developed so quickly that security tools and processes have not yet caught up, meaning that security must be carefully scrutinised at all times.
Similarly, there are currently no established virtualisation standards, making unified environments impossible. While some organisations have overcome this by using single vendors, this leaves them locked into one approach and vulnerable to the predicted consolidation of the virtualisation market.
Lastly, while some vendors are adapting their management tool products to handle virtualisation, often they do not cover all possible management aspects. As a result, they only grant piecemeal control of the environment.
In order to overcome these challenges and reap the full benefits of virtualisation, businesses will need to evolve their approach to data centre management. Taking a standardised approach to virtualisation deployment will be key to simplifying management of the virtualised environment. Businesses can accomplish this by applying the same guidelines and practices for physical server deployments to their virtual machines. This will provide ground rules for how virtual machines enter the environment and allows them to be placed inside an operational framework.
To do this effectively, they must carefully consider virtualisation's impact in three key areas. First, technology - organisations must examine how the added features, functionality and advantages of virtualisation integrate into their existing systems, over and above simply running multiple environments on fewer servers. Second, its operational impact - how does the virtualisation already in place impact existing systems, tools and processes and what monitoring and management tool are needed? Lastly, the financial impact - the ROI and running costs of any new technology must be thoroughly investigated by the IT department.
Clearly, virtualisation has many benefits for businesses. However, to make it a success, organisations must have a strategy in place to govern how virtualisation enters, is used in and leaves the data centre. The very nature of virtualisation means that in order to be effective, this will also require the business to rethink how it approaches IT resource management. Only by having a clear strategy and framework in place can organisations reap the full benefits of virtualisation and use it to deliver IT services more efficiently.
Chris Reid is managing consultant at Morse