Archive for category Policies

Webcast: “Understanding and Managing VM Sprawl”

The idea of virtual machine “sprawl” – the rapid proliferation of VMs without adequate IT oversight or management – seems to be a popular one.  I have written and spoken on this topic before, but there have been enough changes in the tools and implementation methods for server virtualization to merit an updated presentation.  That’s the topic of a recent webcast that I recorded for TechTarget’s site. 

The webcast is titled “Understanding and Managing VM Sprawl”.  An archived version is available for viewing at no cost (though registration is required).  Here’s a brief abstract of the topic:


Virtualization can help address many of IT’s biggest headaches, but it can also lead to a problem known as "VM sprawl" – the rapid proliferation of VMs without sufficient IT oversight.  The result is an environment that doesn’t meet security or administration requirements, putting applications, services, and data at risk.

This webcast will provide an overview of VM sprawl – its root causes and related issues, along with ways to mitigate the main issues.  Specifically, it will provide best practices for managing the entire virtual machine life cycle (from deployment to retirement) and details related to tracking VMs in the environment.  The webcast will then describe how automated virtualization management solutions can help provide all of the benefits of virtualization with minimum administrative overhead.

The content is targeted towards IT managers and higher-level IT people.  It focuses on virtualization management strategies, though there’s a good amount of technical depth.  The presentation is roughly 45 minutes in length.  I hope you find it useful, and feel free to post questions or comments here.

Virtual Strategy Magazine: Optimizing Virtualization Performance

M article, Empire Management, Episode 2: Optimizing Virtualization Performance, is now available on the Virtual Strategy Magazine web site.  From the article’s introduction:

Whether your primary job function is more like that of Han Solo – avoiding Imperial pursuit forces – or that of Darth Vader (doing said pursuing), you know that performance is important.  Part of every IT manager’s mission is to squeeze as much potential performance out of existing investments as possible.  While your data center might resemble a massive Death Star, it’s important that it’s individual components run as smoothly as, say, a TIE Fighter.

In my previous article in this series, Empire Management 101, I focused on topics related to how you can monitor the performance of your virtualization host servers and the VMs that they support.  In this article, I’m going to focus on the application of this information – how you can use performance details to make better decisions about how to deploy and distribute your VMs.

Don’t let all the Star Wars references fool you – the article does include some important technical recommendations for monitoring, managing, and optimizing virtualization performance.  May the Force be with you!

WebCast: Controlling VM Sprawl

I recently recorded a live WebCast titled Virtualization: Best Practices for Preventing VM Sprawl.  The presentation walks through some recommendations for gaining (or regaining) control in environments where IT departments are having a hard time managing hundreds or dozens of VMs.  Here’s the abstract:

Industry experts agree that implementing virtualization without good management is more dangerous than not using virtualization in the first place. While organizations and IT staff do see the many benefits of implementing virtualization, the challenge of controlling virtual infrastructures is quickly rising as a top management priority. According to a Gartner survey, Virtual Machine (VM) "sprawl" is a major concern that appears to lack a comprehensive solution (Virtualization Needs and Trends, Cameron Haight, 29 August 2007).

This webinar will look at sources of VM sprawl and investigate the dangers inherent in a sprawl condition. It will focus on best practices for preventing VM sprawl and for establishing and maintaining control of virtualized environments.

The presenter, Anil Desai, draws on his past experience as a data center manager who has successfully managed environments of thousands of virtual machines as well as his books on this subject to outline a series of best practices aimed at maintaining control of your virtual machines, no matter how many you have.

The WebCast was sponsored by Embotics, and includes information about their V-Commander product, which helps manage VMs.  I hope you find the content to be useful!

Tools for Managing Virtualization

While virtualization technology certainly helps reduce some of the most important problems for IT organizations, there’s a potential downside.  Many organizations have found that they’re ill-equipped to manage the dozens or hundreds of VMs that tend to pop-up once virtualization software has been deployed.  Some of these deployments circumvent IT, while others just slip in under the radar.  For example, VMs that are only occasionally powered on or that are not connected to external networks can be overlooked entirely.  When they’re brought online, they’re often out-of-date with respect to patches.

Megan Santosus recently interviewed me for her article, Does virtualization need special management tools?  From the article:

If server virtualization has a dark side, it may be virtual machine (VM) sprawl. The principal problem created by sprawl is that IT administrators can’t certify that all deployed VMs meet an organization’s policies and procedures just as they would certify physical servers. "Deploying VMs at many organizations circumvents the standard processes for deploying physical servers," noted contributor Anil Desai.

The main idea is that virtualization-aware tools are a must for organizations that must maintain control of their production deployments.  Embotics is one of many organizations that has understood that need and has developed products that are focused on virtual environments.  For more details, see the White Paper that I wrote for Embotics, titled Controlling VM Sprawl: Best Practices for Maintaining Control of Virtualized Infrastructures.

Embotics White Paper: Controlling VM Sprawl

whitepapersI recently wrote a technical best practices White Paper for Embotics, Inc.  It’s titled Controlling VM Sprawl: Best Practices for Maintaining Control of Virtualized Infrastructures, and is available for free download (registration is required).   The content defines and addresses the issue of "VM Sprawl" – the rapid proliferation of virtual machines that many environments are experiencing.  While virtualization technology can provide numerous benefits in just about all areas of an IT organization’s operations, many people have let issues like security, policies, and processes slide.  Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Many IT solutions tend to solve important business and technical problems in ways that can create management-related concerns. Virtualization is no exception. While organizations and their IT staff have quickly realized the many benefits of implementing virtualization, the challenge of controlling virtual infrastructures is one that is often overlooked.

Often, the benefits of virtualization start to become overshadowed by issues of security, administration, and configuration management. The primary cause is often referred to as “VM Sprawl” – the proliferation of virtual machines without adequate IT control. Organizations must recognize that virtual machines are different from their physical ones and the systems and controls that are in place to manage their physical environment may not work well in the virtual one.

In this White Paper, I will discuss the sources of VM sprawl, the dangers inherent in it and present best practices to address these issues. Finally, I will discuss the importance of automated virtualization management solutions. The goal of this white paper is to allow organizations to realize the many benefits of virtualization technology while still maintaining control of their environment.

Download the White Paper and feel free to leave me some feedback!

Information Week Article: Addressing the Challenge of VM Sprawl

I was recently interviewed by Charles Babcock from Information Week for his article, Virtual Machine Sprawl Will Challenge IT Management Skills.  The interview was based on the content of a a White Paper I wrote for Embotics, Inc., a provider of virtualization management solution.  The paper is titled Controlling VM Sprawl: Best Practices for Maintaining Control of Virtualized Infrastructures, and is available for free download (registration required).  I’ll post more about the White Paper in an other blog entry.  From the Information Week article:

Many IT managers don’t know how many virtual machines they’re running and whether they’re secure, says virtualization expert Anil Desai.

Software developers like to use virtual machines because they can cheaply mimic a target environment.

Testers like virtual machines because they can test more combinations of new software with parts of the infrastructure in virtual machines.

Department heads like virtual appliances — applications teamed up with an operating system in virtual machine-ready file format — because they can be downloaded off the Internet, tried out, and pressed into service immediately, without the usual delays.

And each of these examples illustrates how virtualizing the enterprise leads to uncontrolled, virtual machine sprawl, with IT managers not knowing how many virtual machines they’re running, where they’re running, whether they’re offline and stored away, or whether they are secure.

The article raises awareness of the problem of "VM sprawl" – the rapid proliferation of virtual machines, often with little or no IT oversight.  The article and the White Paper provide some best practices for gaining (or regaining) control of virtual machines through policies and processes.  Feel free to leave comments about your own VM management horror stories (and, better yet, solutions)!

Virtual Platform Management: Policies and Processes

DGVPM Cover Chapter #8 of my free eBook called, The Definitive Guide to Virtual Platform Management, is now available for download.  This chapter talks about ways in which organizations can use policies and processes to better manage virtualization.  Included is information about creating and enforcing Service Level Agreements (SLAs), implementing charge-backs, and other best practices.  Check it out online (and don’t miss the first seven chapters)!

IT Fights Back: Virtualization SLAs and Charge-Backs

My article, the first in a series entitled, “Fighting The Dark Side of Virtualization” is now available on the Virtual Strategy Magazine Web site.  The article, IT Fights Back: Virtualization SLAs and Charge-Backs, focuses on ways in which IT departments can help manage issues such as VM sprawl (the explosive proliferation of VMs), while containing costs.  As a quick teaser, here’s the opening marquee:



The adventure begins…

IT Policies: Monitoring Physical and Virtual Environments

This article was first published on

Here’s quick question: How many virtual machines and physical servers are currently running on your production environment? If you can answer that, congratulations! Here’s a harder one: Identify the top 10 physical or virtual machines based on resource utilization. For most IT organizations, both of these questions can be difficult to answer. Fortunately, there are ways to implement monitoring in an automated way. In this tip, I’ll present some advice related to monitoring VMs and host computers in a production environment.

They’re all pretty much the same…

In many ways, the tasks associated with monitoring virtual machines are similar to those of working with physical ones. Organizations that have invested in centralized monitoring solutions can continue to rely upon them for gaining insight into how applications and services are performing. Examples include:

  • Establishing Baselines: A baseline helps you determine the standard level of resource utilization for a physical or virtual workload. Details to track typically include CPU, memory, disk, and network performance.
  • Root-Cause Analysis / Troubleshooting: When users complain of slow performance, it’s important for IT staff to be able to drill-down into the main cause of the problem. Performance statistics can often help identify which resources are constrained. Ideally, that will help identify the source of the problem and provide strong hints about resolving them.
  • Generating Alerts: In order to proactively manage performance, IT staff should be alerted whenever resource utilization exceeds certain thresholds. This can help reconfigure workloads

All of these tasks are fairly standard in many IT environments and are also applicable to working with virtual workloads.

… Except for their differences

Environments that use virtualization also have some unique challenges related to performance monitoring. Since it’s quick and easy to deploy new VMs, keeping track of them is a huge challenge. Some additional features and functions that can be helpful include:

  • Mapping Guest-to-Host Relationships: While virtual machines have their own operating system, resource utilization is often tied to other activity on the same host server. Virtualization-aware monitoring tools should be able to uniquely identify VMs and relate them to the physical computers on which they are running.
  • Automated Responses / Dynamic Reconfiguration: In many cases, it’s possible to perform automated tasks in reaction to performance-related issues. For example, if CPU usage of a single VM is slowing down the entire host, VM priority settings can be adjusted. Or, when excessive paging is occurring, the VM’s memory allocation can be increased.
  • Broad Platform Support: There’s a good chance that you’re supporting many more OS versions and flavors for VMs than on physical machines. A good performance monitoring solution will support the majority of virtual operating environments.
  • Reporting / Capacity Planning: The primary purpose of performance monitoring is to facilitate better decision-making. Advanced reporting features can help track untapped resources and identify host servers that are overloaded. Tracking historical performance statistics can also be very helpful.

Choosing the Right Tools for the Job

Most operating systems provide simple tools for troubleshooting performance issues on a single or a few computers. In environments that support more than a few VMs, automated performance monitoring and management tools are practically a must-have. Figure 1 provides some details into features that can be useful.


Figure 1: Features to look for in performance management tools


Overall, many of the standard IT best practices apply equally to monitoring physical and virtual machines. When searching for tools to get the job done, however, there are certain features that can dramatically reduce the time and effort required to gain insight into production performance.

IT Policies: Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

This article was first published on

Have you heard the one about the IT department whose goals were not well-aligned with the needs of its users? OK, so that’s probably not a very good setup for a joke. One of the most common challenges faced by most IT organizations is defining their internal customers’ requirements and delivering services based on them. In this Tip, I’ll provide details on how you can define Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and how you can use them to better manage virtualization and to reduce costs.

Agreeing to Service Level Agreements

Challenges related to deploying virtualization include skepticism related to the technology. This often reads to resistance and a lack of knowledge about the potential cost and management benefits of using virtual machines.

The purpose of a Service Level Agreement is to define, prioritize, and document the real needs of an organization. All too often, IT departments tend to work in a relatively vacuum, focusing on technology. The area of virtualization is no exception – it’s often much easier to create and deploy VMs than it is to determine the strategic needs of the company. The problems range from poorly managing users’ expectations to large costs that might not directly address the most important challenges. The goal of containing costs is the basis for a lot of virtualization decisions, so it’s important to keep this in mind.

When developing SLAs, the most important aspect is for the process to be a team effort. Managers, IT staff, and end-users should all have input into the process. Typical steps in the process are shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Steps in the process of creating a new SLA

Defining SLA Goals and Metrics

SLA goals define the targeted levels of service that are to be expected from IT departments. Metrics are the specific statistics and data that must be measured to ensure that the levels are being met. Some examples might include:

  • Deployment: The time it takes to provision a new VM
  • Performance: Ensuring adequate application and service response times
  • Availability: Verifying virtual machine uptime
  • Change Management: Efficiently managing VM configuration updates

A well-defined SLA should include details about how the quality of the service is measured. For example, the goal for the uptime of a particular VM might be 99.9%. This can be measured using standard enterprise monitoring tools. Or, the deployment goal for a standard configuration of a virtual machine might be 4 business hours from the time of the request.

Reducing Costs with SLAs

If you haven’t yet created SLAs, you might be thinking about the time and effort that it will take to setup and track the associated metrics. While there is certainly a cost to be paid for creating SLAs, there can also be numerous benefits. One important aspect is that areas for improvement can easily be identified. For example, if a business finds that it could improve its operations by more quickly deploying VMs, an investment in automation could help. Table 1 provides that and some other hypothetical examples.


Table 1: Examples of potential cost savings based on automation


IT organizations that constantly find themselves trying to keep up with virtualization-related requirements can benefit by creating SLAs. When done properly, this will help technical initiatives (such as VM deployments and server consolidations) stay in line with users’ expectations. Overall, this can help the entire organization make better decisions about the importance of virtual infrastructures.