Somehow over the years, the automotive industry has convinced us that the new calendar year begins in October. After all, that is when the next model year is commercially available, complete with all the new bells and whistles to make life easier and more complete, as well as drive demand for the latest and greatest on four wheels. In many ways, that same upgrade fever affects our technology buying patterns, highlighting the incremental improvements that promise fewer clicks, seamless integrations, greater ease of use, new buttons and widgets, and new-found productivity. But just as that new car will likely have less impact on making your cross-country road trip memorable than the route than you choose to take, the success of new technology implementations, like virtualization, is more about the business benefit realized by your company and less about the features of the technology.
That’s not to say that there is no difference between a luxury sedan and an economy subcompact, but six months after the trip, it’s unlikely that anyone will comment on the leather seats, dual-zone climate control or satellite radio. What they will remember are the places they visited, food shared, moments enjoyed and events that captured their attention. 
While virtualization technology itself has tremendous potential to improve IT processes, reduce operational costs and save energy for many business organizations, the road to success, failure or other “memorable moments” with this technology is also heavily dependent on the route that you plan, the stops that you make and the real-time traffic reports you use to guide your way. Like the many roads leading to your desired vacation destination, your network could contain the potholes and pitfalls to detour your initiative or ultimately make it a traffic fatality. A roadmap including insight to the physical infrastructure supporting the fancy new car of virtualization can not only successfully get you to your final destination, but also make it a trip worth reliving. 

Map Your Route

Making informed decisions about the correct mix and deployment of virtualization technology requires more than just the reams of data points you can collect about its operation. This forest of data can obscure your view and prevent you from noticing the trend of trees that whittle away at your ROI. The thousands of dollars saved in hardware costs by virtualized servers can easily be negated if every user accessing the enterprise application hosted on that virtual instance now must wait for their transactions to complete.
Virtual servers enable higher utilization rates on physical servers, leading to greater enterprise efficiencies. However, with each added virtual server, the business risk of failure increases. Instead of risking just one enterprise application, the physical server becomes a single point of failure for multiple applications and a broader range of end users. More users are vying for information across the server’s network interface card and the traffic from multiple network segments converges on the hosting switch. The decision to host another enterprise application on a physical server is not just about the server’s spare CPU cycles; it requires balancing the number of users, network traffic and physical capacity of the complete infrastructure along the entire route from user to server.
However, simple reports and tabulated data are of minimal value in analyzing complex, multivariable, interdependent data sets. New graphical and interactive Web-based dashboards deliver contemporary flexibility and interactivity for selecting, exploring, analyzing and visualizing data to uncover previously unknown trends and patterns and empower strategic business decisions. 

Your 10,000-Mile Checkup

One of the key benefits of virtualization technologies is the ability to virtualize servers. Not only does this enable rapid deployment of various operating systems, but it reduces maintenance costs, takes less administrative time to manage, saves on energy consumption/costs, reduces capital expenditures and mitigates security risks. Since each virtual machine (VM) is encapsulated into a self-contained instance, multiple virtual servers can be deployed onto a single physical server, allowing organizations to achieve higher, more cost-effective utilization rates – particularly on x86 platforms.
More than 80 percent of server shipments today utilize x86 architectures. High-density x86 rack servers make physical deployments easy and allow for better real estate management in the data center. However, a typical x86 server only uses five to 10 percent of its available computational capacity on a daily basis. Using multiple virtual servers can boost utilization to the 60 to 70 percent range recommended by capacity planning experts, reducing power and cooling requirements as well as the need to acquire new hardware as the business must add new enterprise applications. This practice can also enable rapid deployment of various operating systems, help reduce overall maintenance costs, decrease the amount of administrative time required to manage the network and mitigate security risks. 

Practice Defensive Driving

Another key benefit to virtualization technology is the speed and ease of deploying new instances for a broad range of uses. Test environments can be quickly implemented to validate new enterprise applications, isolated environments can be secured to quarantine sensitive projects or mitigate viral attacks, or requisite operating systems can be configured despite lacking the supporting physical hardware. Its range of application, ease of use and deployment, and versatility have IT organizations using it faster and broader than even the virtualization solution providers could have imagined. This explosion and ensuing operational difficulties has even spawned the term “VM sprawl” to describe the phenomenon. 
It’s not enough to know that a certain number of VMs are deployed or even just the location at which they are deployed. Technologies can dynamically move them between physical servers when VM performance degrades. In doing so, however, the route from the user to the business application they require has also changed – possibly negating the overall intended effect. The number of network device hops could increase. The throughput of those devices, the capacity of that network segment, or the makeup of the overall traffic could be negatively impacted. The result would thus give the user perceived performance degradation. A management solution that tracks VMs as they move about the network and assesses the overall performance contribution of the network gives operations personnel the ability to study, understand and document compliance, allowing them to provision capacity, delivering users optimum performance.

Stay Inside the Yellow Lines

There is a cost of diminishing return when it comes to virtual server deployments. A balance must be struck between physical server utilization rates and the perceived performance of the applications or services delivered to end users. With the ratio too low, you limit the overall potential savings achievable with the new technology. Conversely, if too high, users will experience degraded performance and do the thing that users do best – complain.
Getting the mix just right requires an understanding of operational characteristics across physical servers, virtual servers and the network connecting them all to end users. With the right management application – one providing visibility to all three areas – you can collect insightful statistics enabling you to understand the complex interaction between these tiers and make well-informed decisions. By monitoring, collecting and sending alerts on the operation and performance of the virtual machines, the physical servers that host them and the networks upon which they deliver applications and services, operations personnel will be able to ensure that mission-critical business services are continually available for their intended recipients.

No Backseat Drivers

Another road hazard on the journey to virtualization is deciding who in your organization should be in the driver’s seat. Virtualization technology crosses the traditional boundaries of IT and can be classified within several different categories. Because in it virtualizes servers, does management responsibility lie with the hardware or data center folks? It is a software-only solution, as well. Does this mean the application’s support team is more appropriate at the helm? Finally, virtual instances also include virtual network cards and switches. Is the infrastructure support team more apropos taking on the management mantle?
Regardless of who’s in the driver’s seat, virtualization technology has impact beyond any one group in the organization. Without visibility to the key performance indicators of the virtual machines and their running applications, the physical servers that are hosting them, and the network infrastructure connecting each of them to the business users, insufficient information is available for adequate capacity planning and ensuring optimum return to the business.

Ride Off Into the Sunset 

Despite the complexities new technologies like virtualization can introduce, the road ahead does not have to be fraught with bumps, bruises, potholes and delays. Common-sense approaches can help minimize their negative implications and lead you on the road to success. What you may lose in the comfort of the status quo can be well overcome in the speed, versatility or economical and operational benefits virtualization brings to you or your company. Current generation management solutions bring visibility and manageability of contemporary technologies like virtualization in the context of the overall network to balance ROI and ensure end-user service satisfaction. A roadmap including insight into the physical infrastructure supporting the fancy new car of virtualization can not only successfully get you to your final destination, but also make it a trip worth reliving.

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