Virtualizing an IT infrastructure is no easy feat. There is assessing and deciding, and potentially retraining to be undertaken. Ironically, whether a virtualized infrastructure succeeds depends not on the level of virtualization, the software selected or the granularity of the deployment, but on something more basic: management, particularly an understanding of where the network is and where you want it to go.
Among the topics covered at this week's Virtualization Executive Forum was how to transform the data center from a purely physical infrastructure to an infrastructure that is both physical and virtual.
Panelists in the session aptly named, "From Physical to Virtual," had a unanimous message: If your physical IT infrastructure is a tangled mess, don't think you can simply migrate it to a virtualized ecosystem and have a squeaky clean infrastructure.
Virtualization certainly will not simplify any existing issues. It also may not be a a panacea for all server ills.
According to Christopher Burry, technology infrastructure practice director at Avande, a joint venture between IBM and Accenture, the first step is to determine whether and where virtualization is appropriate for the enterprise. The next question is which virtualization technology to employ.
Burry, who brings a consultant-heavy background to the table, stressed the importance of planning and evaluating. Rather than simply looking at daily server loads, for example, a long-term assessment should be made. For example, are there quarterly or seasonal peaks that must be accommodated when determining what will sit on the actual box?
Other macro-level questions to ask are "where does virtualization fit into the business? What can it deliver beyond cost-savings?"
Andre Hill, director of Linux programming at Novell, recommends also asking "what are you trying to virtualize, and why?" Those charged with virtualization must evaluate the situation for "the application down, not the technology up."
Similar sentiments were expressed at last week's Interop. In a breakout session that discussed the virtualized data center, David Wagner, director of solutions marketing at BMC Software, said enterprises "need to figure out virtualization from a business need, not an infrastructure need." In other words, you can have the coolest technology, but if you can't meet end-user needs, you will not have a successful deployment.
Wagner sees a need for effective management both during the change and post-virtualization in the form of "ongoing capacity management" to prevent virtual server sprawl.
Burry refers to this as governance, and believes it to be the single biggest issue for virtualized infrastructures. Governance encompasses tracking and understanding the network. Burry said he believes effective governance is so critical that if it isn't resolved, "you'll have a bigger virtualization problem" than that which existed in the physical sphere.
"Complexity is never technology's friend," Burry adds, especially when it can lead to 7,000 virtual test servers.
Enterprises should bear in mind that at some point, there is is a diminishing of returns on virtualization. You can get only so granular before there is a performance hit, or so streamlined before there are too many eggs in one basket.
Also, despite virtualization's merits, sometimes it's not the answer. Hill notes that sometimes its less expensive and more effective to buy more hardware. In this and similar cases, the best virtualization strategy would be to hold off on deploying virtual servers in production and focus on the managing the physical infrastructure.
Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.