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For virtualization, it’s all about control

The use of virtualization, the consolidation of numerous systems and software on a single platform, allows companies to increase utilization rates while simplifying management of IT resources. In business terms, virtualization improves responsiveness by better meeting shifting business needs and ultimately saves the company’s money, time and resources. For IT staff and the company’s bottom line alike, what could be better than making your IT infrastructure more agile and nimble to meet constantly changing demand?

Midsize companies in particular are exploring the use of virtualization. According to IBM’s report “Inside the Midmarket: A 2011 Perspective” which surveyed 2,112 business and information technology decision makers around the world, about 67 percent of midmarket companies have started or plan to start investing in virtualization.

And yet, the popularity of virtualization has borne unintended consequences. The prevalence of virtualization in organizations has helped give rise to something called virtual machine sprawl. The ease of creating virtual machines has resulted in a real problem among organizations in which too many virtual machines are created over time, unnecessarily driving up storage and energy costs.

Virtual machine sprawl

The term “sprawl” implies an inherent lack of planning or foresight. In the case of virtual machine sprawl, according to Steve Fry, Brand Manager for System x at IBM, it may be more of a lack of control.

“As midmarket clients and enterprise clients jumped into virtualizing infrastructure, they saw tremendous cost savings and power savings,” explains Fry. “And as they matured, they took the next step and started bringing in more and more applications, maybe even virtualizing some test and development environments. People started getting a little bit carried with creating virtual machines, setting up virtualized environments for every one of their specific applications or specific requirements. And at the end of the day, IT lost a little bit of control.”

When a flawed or short-sighted virtualization strategy is put into practice, issues can and often will arise. And with virtual machine sprawl, what was once a model of control, efficiency and cost savings, has the potential to become a model of misalignment, excess and waste.

And issues with virtualization are not just limited to sprawl. Implementing a new architecture can also introduce inadvertent security consequences. As companies move to a virtualized environment, managing configuration settings, preventing leakage of sensitive data, and applying security fixes can be complex.



"For those that are starting out on the journey, the right virtualization strategy that takes future growth into account can make all the difference."



Riding along the virtualization journey

What companies can do about virtual machine sprawl and other security issues is highly dependent on where an organization is along what many people call the virtualization journey. According to analyst firm Frost and Sullivan, the virtualization journey is a multi-step approach that organizations take from the company’s first implementation of virtualization technologies to managing a highly virtualized environment with automation technologies that optimize delivery.

For those that are starting out on the journey, the right virtualization strategy that takes future growth into account can make all the difference. T.R. Bosworth, a Product Offering Manager for PowerVM at IBM, is no stranger to working with companies that are first implementing virtualization. Bosworth works primarily with IBM’s fully integrated systems that have the ability to run hundreds of virtual servers.

“One thing that you need to be aware of is when you're planning for your initial implementation, is to think about your future scalability and availability,” says Bosworth. “And you need to potentially think about putting some controls to start the virtualization journey in place, so that they don't run into the same problem with virtual machine sprawl as you did with hardware server sprawl.”

According to Fry, identifying clear goals, paying particular attention around the company’s high availability tolerance and building in security are critical for midsize firms. “When you start your virtualization project, the number one thing you need to consider is security and how to build that component up front and into the overall project. Don't try to do it as a second or third stage. It won't be as successful.”

For those companies that already have virtualized infrastructure and need to deal with virtual machine sprawl, these companies need to take another look at their virtualized environment for further consolidation opportunities and ultimately better efficiency. Migrating to servers that are optimized for virtualization – like IBM Power System servers and IBM x86-based Enterprise x-Architecture servers – and installing automation around routine processes can provide companies with better visibility into their environment as well as address any possible skills shortage.

IBM’s System x enterprise servers, for example, has memory scalability that is unmatched in the industry which according to Fry allows an organization to increase the density of the virtual machines on that individual platform. “At the end of the day, what does that really drive?” says Fry. “That means you're able to buy one piece of hardware, drive up the virtual machine density and reduce your software licensing costs because you're increasing that virtual machine density.”

And to combat virtual machine sprawl, Bosworth cites some of IBM’s SmartCloud entry software that has “a built-in approval process for creation of virtual machines. It kind of gives you a monitor and metric process for usage.”

The right path

Midsize companies show no signs of disembarking their virtualization journey. Fry sees a combination of factors -- such as the constant improvements in hardware technology and increased comfort level with virtualization – driving its popularity.

“Most people when they first get into virtualization, they are looking at optimizing infrastructure and trying to understand how they can reduce costs,” explains Fry. But as people have gotten further into it, they start to mature their view of what virtualization can bring regarding the overall management of their IT infrastructure. Virtualization simplifies the equation. It simplifies updating servers, updating applications, and provides high availability to the end user.”

The proven benefits of virtualization are just too compelling for most companies to ignore. But any well-run, highly efficient virtualized environment is often the result of a great deal of forethought and constant improvements. And no matter where a company is in the journey, it needs to take a long, hard look at their business needs, its IT infrastructure and the workloads that run on them in order to follow the right path.

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