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TECH WATCH: Data Center Virtualization

10 Keys To Data Center Virtualization
Successful Data Center Virtualization is more than just reducing the number of servers. Here are 10 keys that IT pros should look for.  
1. Leverage your existing investment

It seems basic, but find out how to use the servers you already have to actually centralize and virtualize in your Data Center. The goal is to increase server utilization and avoid the situation where you have 100 servers all running at 20 percent capacity. And you can refresh old servers through Virtualization.


Ask yourself where am I spending my money? Is it on equipment, software, maintenance, staff or utilities?
Do an analysis of current and future costs. At many Data Centers, the largest cost is for power to run the Data Center itself. Reducing the number of servers in operation through Virtualization technologies can cut your Data Center operating costs. You can enable power management features, replace old disk and tape technologies with new equipment that increases capacity and saves power.  For example replace 70 GB disks with 500 GB disks.


3. Embrace a solution that separates the workload from the hardware.


One of the keys to server consolidation is having the ability to separate the workload from the hardware, so that your business function is not tied to a piece of capital equipment.

According to Citrix’s David Smith, “That is where the big value comes here because that’s where IT is spending all their money today. When I need to do something different, because of the way my IT infrastructure is set up, I typically have to make a capital investment to make that change, so the more


I can reduce or decouple the hardware from the workload, the more benefit that the customer is going to see.”


In a virtualized environment, if you are buying a new application then you don’t need to buy dedicated server for that application, you can use your existing resources that have been virtualized where there will be more capacity to provision that application virtually.


4. Determine what can be virtualized.


The answer starts with your architecture and can your underlying application be deployed in a manner that it can be virtualized? Does it support clustering or are there tools that help it support clustering? Can your application be replicated in real time so that data the user is using is current?


Many packaged applications support Virtualization but not all. Examine carefully which of your software and hardware platforms are supported and which might require upgrading before rolling out Virtualization.


5. Plan for growth.


As your requirements grow over time, take care to ensure your Virtualization solution accommodates your long-term capacity and performance needs. You may be able to use reuse servers you may have “decommissioned” and refresh them through Virtualization when capacity dictates.  And as your capacity grows, so do performance requirements. Your Virtualization solution should scale non-disruptively so as not to cause downtime and user disruption. It also keeps your management costs down.


6. Scrutinize you management plans and educate staff.


For all the talk about a “virtual environment”, the fact is in the real-world people are still the greatest factor in determining performance.  According to Enterprise Management Associates, “make sure your consolidation solution accommodates increasing complexity without requiring a larger staff to manage it. If the solution grows within a single environment, it’s a viable answer. If it creates multiple environments, it will ultimately require more staff.”


Also it is important to determine whether your staff has the skills to support Virtualization. EMA says that “about three-quarters of enterprise companies that don't yet have Virtualization in place believe they don't have the skills to support the technology.” And they recommend training staff before the technology is adopted, determining requirements, documenting expected changes and performing pilots of Virtualization technology in small sample environments.”


And are you ready for the inevitable politics that Virtualization could introduce?  There could be pushback. That’s why EMA recommends that to put in reporting tools to show how Virtualization is either helping performance or at the least not hurting departments by sharing resources among them.


Also, there may be fewer servers, but Virtualization can increase the complexity of the overall environment and introduces management issues which could challenge some IT managers. The biggest issue: ease of deployment leads to a proliferation of virtual machines, or virtual server sprawl, which makes management exponentially more difficult. That’s why management systems that automate the management approval process for provisioning is now taking hold. “Still, IT pros must have strong process disciplines for discovery, performance management, configuration management, patch management, service-level management, and provisioning and disaster recovery" says EMA.


7. Tackle Security


According to EMA, “Virtualization can introduce more security holes, more forms of malware and more vulnerabilities than many organizations are prepared to tackle” So IT pros must secure virtual machines as they do physical machines and take extra steps to ensure the virtual environment is locked down. "Technology and disciplines for discovery, configuration, change management and more become critical to detecting virtual malware," says EMA.


8. A good virtualization plan is tied to a good storage plan


Backup is mission-critical. And one reason Virtualization is growing is because it can provide business continuity capabilities. The single largest capital expense line item for storage is for disks. But in many environments, disk utilization rates are well below 50%. Any Virtualization solution should provide a flexible architecture and the tools needed to help you manage capacity and include load balancing to ensure performance and fast response times and redundancy. Finally, be flexible and adopt a disk purchasing plan that does not tie you into one provider.


9. Be proactive and look for alternatives to ensure Virtualization is in line with your business objectives


Do fewer servers reduce your risks? Yes and no. While fewer servers lessen the number of servers that have to be maintained, it "concentrates more users and applications on fewer, more complex, shared virtual environments," according to EMA.


This raises "the impact of hardware failure, human errors, security breaches, planning problems, support issues and more are vastly magnified in a virtual environment." Thus there is a greater need for detailed business continuity and disaster-recovery plans at all stages of the Virtualization project.


Perhaps the "most overlooked factor in the rush to Virtualization" is aligning the technology implementation with specific business goals, EMA says. To measure the success of a Virtualization rollout, enterprise IT shops must first know
their desired results before deploying the technology. EMA recommends IT managers plan for long-term strategic results and not use Virtualization as a quick fix for a pressing pain point.


At the same time, Citrix’s Smith says, “That is one of the benefits of the Virtualization. If I have a workload that can run on any server in my infrastructure, then it gives me the ability to ramp up and ramp down capacity on demand. I don’t have to physically rebuild a server every single time I need to do something different.”


10. Determine how much Virtualization can save you in your drive to “Go Green”.


“Going Green” is often thought of as one of the great drivers or by-products of Virtualization. The bottom line is that a substantial portion of your Data Center operating costs are for energy. Server Virtualization can reduce that cost.


Sources: Citrix; Enterprise Management Associates; GSA; Red Hat; VMware