10 Surprising Virtual Machine Optimizations

Friday Apr 22nd 2011 by Kenneth Hess
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Learn how to gain efficiency with these virtual machine optimization tips. They aren't part of any marketing literature, but they should be.

Virtual infrastructures suffer from inefficiencies that have simple solutions. From poor virtual machine performance to stalled Motions to confusing system names, these 10 virtual machine optimization tips explain how to easily solve each problem. This list of 10 items can increase efficiency, decrease unexpected downtime and can make your virtualization efforts pay for themselves.

1. Updated Hardware

Although using the latest hardware for your virtualization infrastructure has obvious optimization capability, updated hardware refers to firmware and BIOS updates. Keep track of critical updates in these two areas and maintain quarterly patch cycles for hardware. Hardware patch maintenance is often overlooked as part of an overall support plan. Ignoring hardware patches can result in failures or security breaches. Performance optimization is often a positive side-effect of hardware updates.

2. Host Licensing

Host licensing won't boost performance, but purchasing licenses or expanded licenses from your vendor unlocks features that aren't available in free versions or in standard versions. For example, upgrading from VMware vSphere Enterprise to Enterprise Plus unlocks scalability features that significantly expands host and virtual machine (VM) capabilities.

3. Dedicated Motion Network

When configuring a virtual infrastructure, pay particular attention to network setup. Create a separate network, an internal private network, for Motions (moving workloads between hosts). This private network should have gigabit (Gb) or multi-Gb capacity. This isolation creates a network between virtual host systems that provides a fast and secure substrate for workload and storage Motions.

4. Separate Disk Images

The default behavior, when creating multiple virtual disks for a single VM, is to keep all virtual disks together on the same LUN or disk array. Separating those disks results in faster disk response. For example, for a Windows server, separate C: and D: virtual disks onto different LUNs for better performance.

5. Limit vCPUs

Perhaps the least intuitive of all VM optimizations is the idea that reducing the number of virtual CPUs (vCPUs) will boost VM performance. It does. Without mulling complex algorithms, accept the fact that single vCPU per VM increases performance because it decreases wait on host resources. If your VMs with multiple processors suffer from performance problems and you can't figure out why, drop the number of vCPUs to two or one and enjoy the performance boost.

6. Thin Provisioning

Thin provisioning on the storage (SAN) side is a good idea. It results in better storage utilization and moves storage processing to the SAN and away from the virtual infrastructure. And, although virtualization vendors claim that thin provisioning on virtual infrastructure doesn't decrease performance, storage experts will tell you that storage infrastructure handles it more efficiently.

7. Separate Service Levels

This optimization seems obvious, but it isn't. Separate your virtual machine service levels into test, development and production. Administrators should separate the various service levels logically and physically so that each environment remains isolated from the others. Test systems and development systems can have a significant negative impact on production systems. Some administrators go so far as to separate all aspects of their environments: Storage, Network and Enclosures.

8. VM Names

This one may surprise you most, but by using better names for VMs, efficiency when working with those VMs increases. For example, if your VMs have names like VMDTTW01, VMDTDW01, and VMDTTV01, you can see how administrators can make mistakes in administering, patching, rebooting and repairing those systems. Confusing or similar names make support more difficult. It also makes discussion of those systems more difficult.

9. Templates

Virtual machine templates allow administrators to deploy VMs rapidly. Rapid deployment increases efficiency. And an added bonus to using templates is that templates easily convert to VMs for updated patching, installation of new software, and password changes. New VMs created from templates can stay current with your changing environment.

10. Host Profiles

More applicable to VMware than to any other virtualization solution is the concept of host profiles. Host profiles allow administrators to setup host systems with greater efficiency and consistency. Using a host profile, an administrator can setup a new host in seconds with all required VLAN and storage configurations or remediate one without stepping through a wizard.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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