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How to wrangle your virtual machines

IT wants fewer, more comprehensive virtualization management tools. But for now, specialized vendors tackle different challenges.

By Robert L. Scheier
March 28, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Virtualization cuts hardware, power and real estate costs by combining multiple servers, networks and storage arrays into virtual pools. But for users like Pat O'Day, chief technology officer at hosting and managed services provider BlueLock LLC, managing those resource pools means wrestling with multiple applications.

"There's a backup console, the SAN has a console, antivirus has a console -- everything has its own console," says O'Day. Buying all of those applications and training staffers to use them is costly and makes it hard to tune a virtualized environment to meet changing needs.

Rich Phillips wishes he could instantly create a virtual machine and provide everything it needs, such as load balancers, firewalls and database connections, and then automatically register it with his configuration management database. But the tools he's seen that are designed to do that are either too expensive or "not fully baked," says Phillips, principal network engineer at Apollo Group Inc., which provides IT services to the University of Phoenix and other schools.

Apollo uses NetScout Systems Inc.'s nGenius Performance Manager, Service Delivery Manager, InfiniStream Console, 9900 Probes and Virtual Agents to monitor the performance of its network. Phillips says he is pleased with the tools but wishes they could also monitor and troubleshoot the servers and storage arrays that can slow application performance.

Vendors are working to develop tools that enable users to manage entire systems through a single console -- or a "single pane of glass" -- but for now, users must choose among products that manage only parts of their environments or focus on specific problems, such as security, backup or the sprawl of unused virtual machines.

Life-cycle Management

Even if obsolete or unneeded VMs aren't powered up, they take up expensive disk space. If they are running, they use computing cycles and network bandwidth and can cause performance or security problems.

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