VM management in mixed virtual server platforms: The Indian view

What happens when organizations have more than one server virtualization platform? Here's a look.

Server virtualization is definitely finding widespread acceptance in Indian markets, but operating it on mixed virtual server platforms and the resultant virtual machine (VM) management is still a while away, though not all that far away. VM management of such proportions has already started, even if it is extremely minute in scale at the moment, as compared to the global scenario where this practice is quite common.

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Now the question is about why an organization would want to complicate its data center operations by operating VMs on mixed virtual platforms? At least when it comes to India, the reasons will be the economics. Currently, a lot of growth in server virtualization is happening on a single vendor platform, rather than a dual vendor platform. At this stage, in markets like India, there are a few large enterprises which have started trying server virtualization platforms from multiple vendors and the resultant VM management in an x86 environment—mainly for research and development purposes.

According to Naveen Mishra, the principal analyst of Gartner India, heterogeneity of server virtualization platforms and the resultant VM management issues is a reality in global markets. "The key benefit is primarily derived by the SLA (service level agreement) that organizations expect from a particular virtualization environment. Depending on the workload and expected SLAs, some of the large enterprise customers have started trying new environments. As a result, there are traditional Microsoft customers trying VMware, or vice versa, along with open source environments," says Mishra

On this front Basant Chaturvedi, the IT head of Perfetti van Melle adds that, there should be really strong reasons for going in for a heterogeneous server virtualization environment, because VM management and ROI justification are very difficult. Perfetti has two different virtual platforms (VMware and Citrix) to run its server virtualization and desktop virtualization setups.

Organizations might want different server virtualization platforms for different applications. One has to make sure that these (and the ISVs which have created them) work in all virtual server environments—VM management becomes a challenge in such situation. It tends to happen that certain applications work optimally in a particular VM environment depending on the SLA you expect from a particular application. For example, a customer may prefer to keep a mission-critical application on a very high availability virtual server environment. On the other hand, for an application that does not require high availability, one may not want to invest in a platform that provides high availability. As Mishra puts it, "Depending on SLA versus service delivery expectations, organizations will start putting different applications on mixed virtual platforms."

According to a spokesperson from Network Techlab India, people will opt for heterogeneous environments mainly because of the free versions from Microsoft and Citrix. "Since VMware has a 70% share in the industry, others are catching up by reducing prices. Thus, companies are likely to explore different virtualization technologies."

VM management complexity in heterogeneity

VM management of heterogeneous platforms will be a tricky task. To start with, managing even a normal VM environment is a big challenge, especially when there is huge growth in virtual servers. Be it with a single vendor platform or multiple vendor platforms, the main problem facing VM management is that of the virtual machine sprawl. Explains Mishra: "In a heterogeneous server virtualization environment you need to spend a lot of money to track and manage virtual servers. The change management, patch management and other routine stuff that is done may change from one vendor to another." In addition, organizations will have to bear planned downtime while doing patch management in a mixed VM environment.

Server virtualization vendors are trying to address these problems. Even traditional vendors such as HP and IBM are trying to come up with their own VM management consoles, which will allow the management heterogeneous virtual server platforms. A lot of investment has been witnessed in the area of VM management, and third-party players are also focusing on it. As of today, Microsoft's SCOM (System Center Operations Manager) is quite a popular VM management tool that helps to manage different virtual platforms. It can also manage any flavor of Unix or Novell.

Chaturvedi calls attention to a different aspect of the VM management challenge. "Do you have the right skillsets to manage such a VM deployment? Are there any people who can monitor these VMs? Trained manpower in this area would be another investment which has to be made. What's more, justifying costs is tricky."

Many more questions come to mind when it comes to such VM management challenges. For instance, how do you plan disaster recovery for such a VM environment, since it may lead to complete downtime on all applications running on that particular server? One has to also take care of the allocation of resources, and plan as to which application goes on which platform.

In spite of these hurdles, India is definitely going to see more heterogeneous virtual platforms and the resultant VM management challenges. The macro driver? Server virtualization will become more mainstream—and make other things follow.

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