Getting a grip on multivendor virtualization

Most shops already use products from different providers, survey says

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VRM's self-service feature allows more than 250 users in the company's development community to spin up virtual desktops as needed. "The self-service capability alone has freed our operational teams to focus on other tasks" at a rate of twice the normal workload of a full-time employee, the manager says. Plus, he adds, "VRM integrates well with third-party technologies."

That said, the investment firm hasn't taken the step of adding a second server-based hypervisor into the mix -- not yet, anyway. "We do not see [Hyper-V] being a viable solution for any of our workloads at present," says the IT manager. He notes, however, that he plans to evaluate Hyper-V Release 2 upon its availability for possible use in testing and development.

Go below the surface

A tool vendor's support of multiple hypervisors isn't enough, says Kelly Beardmore, CTO of Tenzing Managed IT Services, which uses PlateSpin Orchestrate to manage ESX, Hyper-V and Xen hypervisors in its hosting infrastructure. Instead, Beardmore advises, it's critical to make sure a management tool works with each hypervisor equally well, versus supporting every feature of one hypervisor and supporting, say, half of another's. "Most of them at this point don't," he cautions.

Given that a lot of these tools are fairly immature, IT managers have to push vendors on their development timelines, Beardmore says. Say Citrix, Microsoft or VMware releases a new version of its hypervisor full of great new capabilities. "You have to ask your management vendor, 'How long will it be until I'm going to be able to use those features through your tool?'"

On top of that, users need to ask their management vendors how adaptable a tool might be to their needs, suggests Rich Krueger, CEO of DynamicOps. "Customers should be able to go to a vendor and say, 'Here's how we do business. How will your tool help?'"

Success will come when virtualization administrators have tools that support smart, not just mundane, work, says EMA's Mann. Automation is a key part of that, with features such as application dependency mapping, change management and live migration becoming increasingly critical as enterprises scale out their virtualization infrastructures.

At Tenzing, working smart translates into selecting a tool with strong policy and workflow engines that allow the company to create business rules without a lot of programming. "This is where our business rules will be set," Beardmore says. "If that [process] is complicated and difficult, then everything is complicated and difficult, and that limits the intelligence and power of a virtual data center overall."

At the organizational level

While IT managers grapple with technology-related best practices, they mustn't overlook organizational ones, either, experts say. "We're not going to have a virtualization group going forward, and we're certainly not going to have a VMware group and a Hyper-V group going forward," Mann notes. "The server team will have people who know Hyper-V and VMware, but they'll all be responsible for server virtualization as part of managing the whole server environment."

That makes cross-training one last virtualization best practice not to ignore, Mann says. "You can't afford to be just a VMware expert. You can afford to have a 60 to 70% skill set on VMware vs. Hyper-V, and somebody else might have the opposite." This makes cross-training key, he adds. "That's important for organizational flexibility."

Beth Schultz is a freelance IT writer in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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