Network Management

The Virtualization Challenge, Part 4: Implementing the Environment

In Part 1 of this five-part series, we define virtualization; in Part 2, we look at the business drivers for virtualization; Part 3 looks at the challenges enterprises face when they virtualize their IT environment. This installment covers implementing and maintaining a virtualized system.

Before you implement a virtualized environment, you have to plan. A lot.

Not only must you map out what you need to and can virtualize, but you must also step back and take virtualization as part of an enterprise-wide strategy.

“It’s a commonly held belief that, because you’re virtualizing, all your problems go away,” John Humphreys, vice president of virtualization research for IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “But you still have software change management issues — you still have one thousand operating systems you have to patch, whether they’re on hardware or virtual machines. You still need good change management principles and tools, and you can’t buy virtualization thinking it’s going to solve all your problems.”

Think Strategically

“Typically, organizations have approached virtualization in an ad-hoc manner,” Melinda Ballou, an IDC analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “They want quick cost benefits and don’t strategically structure their approach to virtualization as part of their overall asset portfolio encompassing the physical system, so they don’t get the benefit of planning.”

Enterprises need to understand virtual systems “from end to end in the context of physical planning,” Ballou said.

Best practices would include “looking at virtualization as part of the overall IT portfolio from the very beginning and considering how best to optimize the use of virtualization in augmenting physical systems,” Ballou explained.

Know Thy Systems

Virtualization “is not a panacea, it’s not a one size fits all,” Gordon Jackson, virtualization evangelist for DataSynapse, told TechNewsWorld. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense to virtualize everything.”

You must first understand your IT environment and your applications portfolio, then figure out what should be virtualized and how best to virtualize it.

“Every application will be addressed in some specific form or combination of forms of virtualization,” Jackson said. Often, a combination of operating system virtualization and application virtualization provides the greatest return on your investment, he added.

Learn to Prioritize

If you have two applications which need more resources during busy periods, you have to focus on the one that’s more important to your business, Jackson said.

If one is an internal application used by IT that drives the business and is important, but the other drives your revenue and is customer-facing, pick the latter, Jackson advised. “If you need to, sacrifice the internal guys so that the customers, who drive your revenue, are happy,” he said.

Prioritization is crucial, because “you can be the victim of your own success,” Daniel Ciruli, director of products for Digipede Technologies, told TechNewsWorld. “Sometimes when analysts at some of our larger customers realize they have 500 CPUs at their command, they launch enormous jobs, and if they submit these at high priority and during the day a trader needs to execute a query very quickly, there’s going to be a problem,” he added. “So you need policies in place that make sure the most important work gets the highest priority.”

To set your policies, “you need to understand your application portfolio and understand how to drive the applications to meet your needs,” Jackson said. Once that has been done, “you can use the technology appropriately.”

Look Near, Look Far

Virtualization “isn’t a project that’s going to end in two months; it’s the road you take and the destination is increased utilization and guaranteed service levels regardless of the unpredictable dynamics around utilization and what’s happening to the world outside,” Jackson said.

So, how far down the road should you plan?

Once you have your overall strategy in place, you have to create short-term plans as well, to deal with changing situations.

“You shouldn’t have a three-year plan, you should have a rolling 3-6 month plan: Install this, find out the bottlenecks, solve those, install a bit more,” Kevin Epstein, vice president of products for Scalent Systems, told TechNewsWorld. “There’s always going to be a new bottleneck somewhere, and it’s better to install something and keep doing an incremental install.”

Get a Good Partner

If you don’t want to do all this yourself, you could pull in a vendor that specializes in virtualizing IT systems. But if you do, make sure you have a partner who can “take you through the journey, assessing your environment and looking for opportunities to decrease costs and increase utilization rates, and that has a set of tools on the front end to take advantage of virtualization,” Mark Linesch, HP vice president for infrastructure software, told TechNewsWorld.

Once the IT system has been virtualized, you want to manage both the physical and virtual environments in a similar way, and it’s important to have the right tools and technologies in place to help you do so, Linesch added.

Also, you must have a plan to reskill IT administrators as they begin working in the new joint virtual and physical environment; your IT staff may have to learn new tools and techniques and, possibly some new rules; and “you must be clear about any changes in those rules as you consolidate and move to the new virtual and physical environment,” Linesch said.

The Virtualization Challenge, Part 1: Many From One

The Virtualization Challenge, Part 2: Making the Case

The Virtualization Challenge, Part 3: No Bed of Roses

The Virtualization Challenge, Part 5: Virtualization and Security

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