IT Automation & Service Management
IT Automation & Service Management

The Definitive Guide to Virtual Platform Management

by Anil Desai


The Definitive Guide to Virtual Platform Management is designed to help IT staff better manage the complexity of virtualization. This guide begins with a discussion of the business value of virtualization and how organizations can benefit from this technology. Next, details related to virtualization approaches and challenges related to managing heterogeneous environments will be discussed. Based on these issues, the focus will turn to ways in which IT organizations can address all of these issues. Details include monitoring and optimizing virtualization performance, developing policies and processes, and automating data center operations. Finally, a list of important features is developed that IT organizations should look for in a virtualization management solution.


Chapter 1: The Business Value of Virtualization

Every once in a while, a new IT technology is introduced that promises to have far-reaching impacts on how organizations manage technology. Although there are almost always huge benefits, issues such as deployment, administration, and general management of the technology are also important concerns. Just a few short years ago, the term virtualization was generally reserved for a few members of the IT department that were interested in specific applications. Server virtualization solutions have been around for many years, but they were often relegated to running on desktop computers or on a few select servers within an environment.

As a result of a variety of both business and technical reasons, things have changed quickly. Today, server virtualization has moved to the forefront of solution options for organizations that are looking into optimizing their investments in data center assets. Solutions are available from a variety of vendors and can provide dramatic cost savings and related benefits. Although virtualization provides numerous technical and business benefits, IT organizations must consider issues related to the management of this technology.

This guide will walk through many of the details related to best practices for managing virtualization. The focus will be on understanding how and why virtualization should be considered and, once an IT department decides to deploy virtual machines (VMs), how best to manage them. This chapter will lay the foundation for discussing why virtualization is such an important technology. Specifically, it will cover an overview of how virtualization technology works, along with details related to the types of problems that virtualization can help solve. The goal is to serve as an introduction for the in-depth technical topics explored in later chapters.

Chapter 2: Virtualization Scenarios and Applications

Every once in a while, a new type of technology comes along and promises to revolutionize the way organizations manage their IT departments. In some cases, the promises remain unfulfilled due to a variety of challenges and unexpected problems. In other cases, the changes “stick” and it’s difficult to imagine a technology-focused environment that does not take advantage of it. Virtualization is proving itself to be in that latter, more successful group. Although there are certainly potential problems and limitations with the current state of virtual platforms, it’s clear that the benefits of this technology are here to stay.

Furthermore, the use of virtual machines is not limited to just internal projects for data center administrators. Rather, it’s applicable to many different areas of an organization. For most IT and business decision makers, this changes the question from, “Should we use virtualization?” to “How can we make the most of virtualization technology in our environments?” Assuming that organizations have a solid basic understanding of virtualization technology (see Chapter 1 for more information), the organization can build on this foundation of knowledge through the information in this chapter, which looks at many examples of how virtual machine technology can be used throughout a business environment.

Chapter 3: Comparing Virtualization Approaches

The ability to choose from among many technologies is a double-edged sword for IT decision makers. On one hand, having many options makes it more likely that one of them will be the best solution for a given scenario. On the other hand, having many methods of solving a particular problem can make the evaluation process more difficult. The arena of virtualization approaches presents exactly this situation.

As with any new technology, terminology is important. When it comes to discussing virtualization, the term is often used in a variety of different ways. IT decision makers and upper management might understand virtualization as a general concept—the ability to concurrently run multiple disparate workloads on the same hardware. Their main focus is on the primary benefits, including reduced costs, increased hardware utilization, and improvements to deployment and provisioning times.

Technical users, however, usually need to focus on the details of the solution, and that is where it becomes important to distinguish between the various ways in which virtualization can be implemented. This chapter will look at several approaches to solving common IT problems using virtualization solutions. The focus will be on the benefits and limitations of each approach as well as recommendations about which method makes the most sense for various scenarios.

Chapter 4: Virtualization Management Challenges

Although virtualization technology can provide many significant advantages to IT environments, the use of virtual machines is not without potential drawbacks. Many IT organizations have come to the realization that initial purchase costs of hardware and software represent only a relatively small portion of overall expenditures. Additional factors that contribute to the bottom line include expenses related to administration, maintenance, and monitoring.

The focus in this chapter is on highlighting the types of issues that environments are likely to face as they manage infrastructures that contain a mix of physical and virtual computing technologies. The focus is on identifying the problems and how they can have a huge effect on overall IT environments. Organizations that are just getting started with virtualization should keep in mind what’s coming up. Those that have already invested significantly in the technology have probably already started to run into some of these problems.

The overall organization of this chapter is based on the process of managing the complete life cycle of physical and virtual machines. It will start with deployment, then look at administration, configuration management, and monitoring. Although the focus on identifying problems related to virtualization might seem somewhat negative, later chapters will build upon this information as the guide evaluates various solutions that can address these challenges.

Chapter 5: Managing Heterogeneous Virtual Environments

One of the many benefits of working in the IT industry is the ability to choose from a wide variety of different technologies. In the areas of hardware, software, and infrastructure, there are literally hundreds of options from which you can choose. In some cases, one solution or approach might be ideal. In most cases, there will be various pros and cons related to the decision. These tradeoffs often require IT environments to move to take the approach of supporting multiple different systems, applications, and services. The benefits include the ability to choose the best solution for various different problems.

But there is a downside: Managing heterogeneous environments can be complicated and time-consuming. Many areas of IT architectures lack standardization, and vendors have very different ways of administering their products. This places additional burdens on systems administrators and other IT staff that must manage this complexity while still ensuring that business needs are being met. The primary goals are availability, reliability, and performance. Specific concerns include capacity planning, performance monitoring, deployment, configuration management, and conforming to organizational policies and processes.

Virtualization technology provide s both solutions and challenges related to managing disparate systems. On the positive side, the use of virtualization can help dramatically improve hardware resource utilization and create an abstraction layer between a workload and the physical hardware on which it is running. The end result is improved portability of workloads and access to a wide array of platforms that can improve operations. IT organizations have a plethora of different types of virtualization platforms from which to choose. Unfortunately, due to the rapid rise in popularity of this technology, there is a lack of standardization in management tools and techniques. Systems administrators often have to learn several platforms and technologies to get their jobs done. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

Chapter 6: Monitoring Virtualization Performance

Organizations that choose to invest in virtualization technology have often based their decisions on several important assumptions. The first is that by combining multiple independent workloads on a single physical computer, they will be able to better utilize the resources of this computer. The second assumption is that the performance of their virtualized production applications and services will be adequate to meet the needs of users. Although these goals are certainly achievable for the vast majority of IT projects, there are many factors that must be taken into account.

Usage patterns for workloads can change dramatically over time. A small application that was originally only intended for use by several people in the Accounting department might now be relied upon by dozens of end users. Alternatively, some applications and virtual machines might be granted too many resources. Regardless of the reason, these changes raise the importance of managing the performance of virtual workloads and the physical hosts on which they are running.

The focus of this chapter is on monitoring performance for virtualized infrastructures. It will begin by presenting potential business benefits of implementing proactive performance monitoring. It will then present details related to how you can monitor physical and virtual workloads, including which statistics are useful. Then, I’ll switch more to the management side of IT by looking at the many benefits of implementing and monitoring Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Next, I’ll look at ways in which IT staff can predict virtualization performance through benchmarks and other tests. Finally, the chapter will conclude with a discussion of ways in which performance management can be automated.

Business Benefits of Performance Monitoring

Overall, the goal of tracking system performance is to maximize the business benefits of utilizing virtualization technology. Although IT organizations’ initial deployment of virtual machines can provide significant business and technical advantages, there is often room for improvement. Before we look at the technical details of implementing performance management, it’s worthwhile to look at some of the applications and benefits of proactively monitoring system performance. In most cases, it will take additional effort from systems administrators and IT staff to perform these actions, so IT organizations should consider the value of their efforts.

Chapter 7: Optimizing Virtualization Performance

The primary goal for most IT departments is to wring every last bit of available performance out of their existing investments. Clearly, this is one of the reasons that virtualization is such an easy decision. By combining workloads onto physical servers that are typically under-utilized, organizations can get instant benefits without large hardware-related expenditures. Some might be happy with the gains that they’ve realized. But idealistic IT managers will want to know: How can we further improve performance? That’s the subject of this chapter.

Much of the complexity of managing IT environments is related to the many types of supported hardware, software, and operating systems (OSs). For example, the effort required to manage direct-attached hard disks on individual servers can limit scalability. An ideal solution for IT departments is to create a single pool of hardware resources. Workloads can then be deployed into the pool without having to worry about all the individual configuration details.

In many ways, attempting to optimize virtualization performance is analogous to going from “good” to “better” (rather than from “bad” to “good”). For example, an individual physical server might be running at 60 percent average utilization when supporting virtual machines, rather than at 10 percent average utilization when supporting only a single workload. The primary goal of improving virtual machine performance is to push the capacity-related limits of a computer without adversely affecting real-world performance for users. Applications and services should still be able to meet service level expectations.

This chapter will discuss details about how to manage this balancing act. I began the discussion in Chapter 6, when talking about ways in which you can monitor the performance of virtual and physical systems. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to apply that information to make better decisions about where and how to deploy virtual machines. The goal is to optimize resource utilization and virtual machine performance.

Chapter 8: Virtualization Management: Policies and Processes

The focus of this chapter is on identifying the benefits of implementing policies and processes in IT environments that have deployed virtualization technology. Although some of the same standards designed for physical machines still apply, virtualization also brings some unique concerns and considerations. After enumerating benefits of policies and processes, I'll present specific ways in which policies can help. The areas of focus include deployment, configuration management, security best practices, and data protection. Finally, I’ll conclude with best practices for enforcing policies and processes in a busy IT environment.

Chapter 9: Virtualization Management: Data Center Automation

A constant challenge in most IT environments is that of finding enough time and resources to finish all the tasks that need to be completed. IT departments find themselves constantly fighting fires and responding to a seemingly never-ending stream of change requests. Although virtualization technology can provide numerous advantages, there are also associated management-related challenges that must be addressed. When these tasks are performed manually, the added overhead can reduce cost savings and can result in negative effects on performance, availability, reliability, and security.

In previous chapters, I have covered a broad array of best practices related to virtualization management. Organizations have the ability to choose from a range of implementation methods, including physical servers, virtual machines, and clustered systems. The tasks have ranged from deployment and provisioning to monitoring virtual systems once they are in production. All of this raises questions related to the best method of actually implementing these best practices.

Chapter 10: Evaluating Virtualization Management Solutions

IT organizations are often aware of the fact that costs associated with managing new technology can far outweigh the initial deployment costs. Virtualization is no exception. Although the ability to run multiple isolated workloads on the same hardware can provide immediate cost savings and benefits throughout the environment, the associated administration tasks involve significant time and effort.

Throughout the previous chapters, I have covered a wide array of practices and recommendations for gaining and retaining control over virtualized environments. The primary challenge is that properly managing an environment that contains dozens (if not hundreds) of virtual machines can be very difficult. When these tasks are performed manually, IT organizations must absorb significant costs.

Fortunately, there’s a better way—through the use of virtualization-aware enterprise automation solutions much of the work can be simplified or even eliminated. With the proliferation of virtual machine technology, literally dozens of products are available for meeting these needs. The focus of this chapter is on presenting factors that should be considered when evaluating these solutions. I’ll present details related to the overall goals of virtualization management, along with specific features IT organizations should look for in products that will help manage their mixed virtual and physical infrastructures.