Sunday, 17 May 2009

VM Sprawl - prevention rather than cure

The subject of vm sprawl is probably becoming quite common within any organisation that has virtualised a vast majority of their server estate. With analyst reports such as this one who are stating huge growth and adoption of Server Virtualisation within datacentres over the coming years, it is now time to start to look at methodology, technology and IT governance to control this popularity and sprawl and ensure that you do not truly become a victim of your own success gained through Virtualisation. This post will go over some of the small amounts of methods and techniques you can use to control and govern VM sprawl through both technological solutions and through governance and auditing processes.

Within the virtualised world today many people who have deployed virtualisation have the problem that business leaders and purse string holders now know about the great fantastic cost benefits that they can obtain from investment in VMware and other Hypervisors, examples of some of these benefits include;

Large amounts of IT shops have enforced the ever popular "Virtualisation first" policy since the virtual boom time around 2006/7, this opportunity has been enabled by the excellent benefits and the excellent work VMware have done in ensuring that production workloads can and will be most certainly suitable on a Virtualised platform. This policy and the return benefits that the end service requestee has gained however is now almost likely starting to mean that your Infrastructure is growing out of control and at quite a rapid rate due to the popularity, also you are finding due to the agile benefits requestees for projects are probably slipping in the odd extra VM in an estate which they would not typically do with Physical tin due to the associated cost and process to deploy. You may find you start to experience operational issues such as your storage array is becoming full, your Networking switching full due to host demands and in worst cases that lovely space that you gained back through aggressive P2V's strategy circa 2005/6 is now needed back for ESX hosts, all requiring investment again.

Reactive measures

In its simplest form VM sprawl reactive resolution can start by general house cleaning, this wont require you to purchase a product as using Virtualcenter can quite easily accomplish and target reductions if needed. For example some VM's might be not registered on ESX hosts, some might be replicated or spun off to a clone due to original operational issues when the app team or ISV deployed the VM. You may also find that your actual presented VMDK's for VM's are way under filled so they can be shrunk to regain space.

On the consumed storage issues, vSphere 4 introduces a few added peices of functionality which will aid and reduce this in future, any recommendations are based on current releases. Main features include Thin Provisioning of VM's, this will enable you to grow VM usage and not have what is effectively whitespace within your VMDK's unable to be used.

Proactive planning and prevention

Every virtualised environment should have at least some kind of documented audit, if you have not got a CMDB then in simplest form an Excel spreadsheet provides a simplistic view of your Virtual Infrastructure and allocation. Virtualcenter has exportable reporting built in to contribute to build even a simple spreadsheet, to see this in action withinin your Virtualcenter today goto "VM and Template View" then select the highest level folder then select "File > Export > Export List". Some VI Admins may be quite clever with powershell scripts or by building SQL queries but this is quick and easy and intuitive. You can use this type of audit to also help capacity planning for your environment, this enables you to monitor how much space you have left and perform simplistic "What If" analysis on how much disk, RAM and CPU resource you would have when adding a new machine that is being requested.

Again VMware Virtualcenter will at some point this year have functionality within a module called CapacityIQ to enable you to gain this functionality from within the vCenter console, for more information see on this. I've seen it in action and its great, it provides out of the box functionality which will most certainly aid what I've said about within this post.

The Rolls Royce solution

For larger enterprise sized Virtual environments, keeping track of the constant demand and growth demand is impossible and to succeed IT services ideally need to be self service based with the end user or customer being able to request what they want through web mechanism. It would sound stupid to provide the enduser with control to increase even more the created problem of sprawl that you are experiencing, however to combat this the SSP (self service portal) can be provided with delegated privileges, pre defined object creation control, approval processes to higher level management or project support offices and also they can provide proactive benefits such as what if analysis and tombstone of Virtual Machines. All policy within the technology which is applied is set by IT governance policies and defined according to business requirement within the tools.

Two example products which provide self service portals include;

These technologies are currently rather low on uptake and adoption within organisations today, there maybe more technologies on the market but with using example functionality in the above products we will certainly start to see more and more as IT departments struggle with the demands from the business for Infrastructure. I also predict that the technologies will also start to become known as has with VMware the killer app to reduce lost productivity gain within organisations and project teams.

The issues today with the products are they currently they do have medium to large price tags associated which puts off the typical bean counter when businesses cases are put forward, so before building any proposals do your research on the product and see where you feel it is able to reduce and cut current tedious expensive business processes, VM Sprawl and improve your budgeting cost projects so this can be equated into a measurable deliverable ROI post deployment of such product.


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