Many business executives are interested in moving to the cloud because of the potential impact on business strategy. Increasingly they are convinced that a cloud model—particularly the private cloud—will give them an increased amount of flexibility to change and manage the uncontrolled expansion of IT. In contrast, from an IT perspective, the ability to virtualize servers, storage, and I/O, is often viewed as the culmination of the cloud journey. Of course, the world is always more complicated than it appears. Cloud computing, if implemented in a strategic manner, can help a company experiment and change more easily. Likewise, virtualization, which may seem like an isolated and pragmatic approach, needs to be considered in context with an overall cloud computing strategy.
However, the challenge for many companies right now is how to transform their virtualized infrastructure into a private cloud that delivers on the promise of on-demand and self-service provisioning of IT resources. To make sure that business leaders gain desired cost savings and business flexibility while IT gains the optimization that can be achieved through virtualization requires an integrated strategy. At the heart of this strategy is service management of this emerging highly virtualized environment.
Why is service management important? There are good reasons why a key focus of the virtualization strategy at many companies has been on server virtualization. For example, server virtualization helps companies create a faster and more efficient IT provisioning process for users. It helps users with increased operational flexibility based on the mobility and isolation capabilities of virtual machines.
However, there is a major management problem with the typical virtualization approach in many companies. Often developers satisfy their demands for computing resources by simply creating or spinning up a new virtual machine rather than anticipating that they might not have the time or money to purchase new IT systems. IT management in the beginning allows this practice because it is easier than trying to control impatient developers. However, there is a price to be paid. Each new virtual machine image requires memory and disk resources. When the number of virtual machines grows out of control, companies end up spending more time and money on disk, storage, and memory resources than was anticipated. Lack of control means lack of management. What is the answer?
At a recent IBM systems software meeting, Helene Armitage, General Manager of Systems Software, emphasized that in order to truly transform the data center into an agent of change requires a focus on manageability. Here are the main takeaways from my conversations with Helene and her team.
- Virtualization is not just about server consolidation. Companies need to think differently about virtualization in order to prepare for a future marked by rapid change. For example, storage virtualization can offer big benefits to companies facing explosive demand for data storage from increased use of new technologies like embedded and mobile devices.
- Physical and virtual environments will need to be managed in a unified way and at the same time. Some may think of virtualization as a way of reducing management requirements. After all, with consolidated resources you should have less demand for power, energy, and space. However, management needs to be done right to be effective. it is important to consider how to manage across the platform and to include monitoring and configuration in combination with business service management—delivering IT services in a structured, governed, and optimized way.
- Cloud changes the complexion of what’s important. Virtualization takes on a different level of complexity in the cloud. For example, storage and server virtualization must be combined with an emphasis on manageability.
- System pooling is key for managing lots of systems. The concept of pooling is important in virtualization because it enables various resources to be called when needed to improve performance.
- There needs to be a focus on enforcing standardization right from the beginning. You may need to go back and add standardization into server virutlaized environemnts before being able to get to repeatable processes.
Given the significance IBM places on the need for an integrated service management approach, it is no surprise that the company has provided multiple options for companies looking to get started with virutalization managment. IBM’s System Director VMControl, designed to help companies manage virtualized environments and improve service levels, is available in Express, Standard, and Enterprise Editions. Companies can begin their virtual server lifecycle managment with the Express Edition which is available for free. The Standard Edition is the next level and it helps companies manage libraries of virtual images. The Enterprise Edition is designed to provide consistent management across different platforms. This version helps to create and manage system pools.