Virtualization cuts hardware, power, and real estate costs by combining multiple servers, networks, and storage arrays into virtual pools. But for users like Pat O'Day, CTO at hosting and managed services provider BlueLock LLC, managing those resource pools means wrestling with multiple applications.
"There's a backup console, the SAN has a console, antivirus has a console -- everything has its own console," says O'Day. Buying all of those applications and training staffers to use them is costly and makes it hard to tune a virtualized environment to meet changing needs.
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Rich Phillips wishes he could instantly create a virtual machine and provide everything it needs, such as load balancers, firewalls, and database connections, and then automatically register it with his configuration management database. But the tools he's seen that are designed to do that are either too expensive or "not fully baked," says Phillips, principal network engineer at Apollo Group Inc., which provides IT services to the University of Phoenix and other schools.
Apollo uses NetScout Systems Inc.'s nGenius Performance Manager, Service Delivery Manager, InfiniStream Console, 9900 Probes, and Virtual Agents to monitor the performance of its network. Phillips says he is pleased with the tools but wishes they could also monitor and troubleshoot the servers and storage arrays that can slow application performance.
Vendors are working to develop tools that enable users to manage entire systems through a single console -- or a "single pane of glass" -- but for now, users must choose among products that manage only parts of their environments or focus on specific problems, such as security, backup, or the sprawl of unused virtual machines.
Even if obsolete or unneeded VMs aren't powered up, they take up expensive disk space. If they are running, they use computing cycles and network bandwidth and can cause performance or security problems.
Lifecycle management systems find unused virtual machines by tracking the resources they're using or their scheduled expiration dates. They may also support templates that control the amounts of CPU, memory, storage, and network bandwidth available to different types of VMs; the backup or failover policies associated with them; or their life spans.
Ted Waller, Internet operations engineer at Cvent Inc., a vendor of online event management software, says he uses V-Commander virtual machine management software from Embotics Corp. because with it, he can require users to set expiration dates for the VMs they request. Like many other tools, V-Commander can also send warning emails to owners of virtual machines that are due to expire, among other capabilities.
Tools with similar functionality include BMC Software's BMC Cloud Lifecycle Management software, VKernel's Optimization Pack, VMware's vCenter CapacityIQ, Abiquo's Abiquo 1.7, and CommVault System's Simpana 9.
Administrators can control VM sprawl by making users pay for the virtual resources they use (chargeback) or showing them the costs of the assets they use (showback). Showback systems are easier to implement than chargeback systems; they also help internal IT shops prove that they can match the prices of outside providers.