by Todd R. Weiss

Virtualization Check-Up: How’s Your Strategy Shaping Up So Far in 2011?

Jun 28, 20116 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsVirtualization

How a top-to-bottom virtualization review inside your enterprise can help make your systems more efficient.

Once you finish any major IT project inside your enterprise, from an ERP deployment to a CRM upgrade to a SCM install, inevitably the real work for you and your IT team has only just begun.

That’s certainly how it is with virtualization. Your enterprise saw all the promise and perceived benefits of virtualization, from increased application productivity and efficiency to higher availability, so you headed down that road, and good things started to happen.

Now you’ve got to keep it all up-to-date so it can continue to bring benefits to your business. So where do you start to make sure that all systems are still go?

I suggest a top-to-bottom, mid-year virtualization check-up where you can look at everything, check critical milestones, consider changes that need to be made and monitor your system’s real world performance with an eye on constant improvement.

First, you need to ask yourself some questions to evaluate where your enterprise virtualization effort is right now.

*Is your chosen hypervisor still meeting your needs? Is it giving you the performance you expected and is it working well with your critical business applications?

*Do you have a long-term virtualization strategy in place so you can track your efforts over time and ensure that you are achieving optimal performance? Are you watching to be sure that your systems are meeting your targets?

*Does your virtualization effort make your business more agile and more efficient? If not, where can you make changes now to improve efficiency?

*Are you getting the virtualization performance that you expected? If not, what can be done to improve performance?

*How do you evaluate your virtualization performance? Are you running performance monitoring tools and conducting constant monitoring? Are you learning from the monitoring and making needed changes as you discover them?

*Are you running your virtualized servers and applications on private or public clouds? If you are doing your own private cloud, is it time to start looking at moving to a public cloud? What would you gain or risk by such a move? What are your peers doing inside similar companies? Is it time to look into these options or are you OK to stand pat?

*Have you talked to your virtualization vendors about new features they have added that you might want to incorporate in your systems? Would any of the new features help your business? Is an upgrade worth investigating and pursuing? Vendors are always adding new features and sometimes they are really worth bringing in for the improvements they can deliver. Taking the time to do a mid-year review can help you discover if any new features exist and if they are available.

Laura DiDio, principal analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, suggests you broaden your mid-year checklist to include other areas of virtualization.

One key issue that’s on the minds of many of her clients lately, she says, is storage virtualization. “It’s number one on their minds and it’s even outpacing virtualized applications and virtualized desktop environments,” DiDio says. “The storage needs of companies are always growing quickly and that means that people also need more efficient disaster recovery and backup for all of that stored data. You need to make more provisions for that.”

To prepare for this, DiDio says, she regularly advises her clients to go back to the basics as they plan their virtualization updates. Review your existing hardware and upgrade or replace it if it’s more than three years old so it can work with the latest virtualization applications. “You have to make sure that your servers are robust enough to handle all of that traffic,” she says. “You wouldn’t put a 500-pound man on a Shetland pony and you can’t put large virtualization needs on old hardware.”

Another critical part of a mid-year review, DiDio says, is a check-up on your system’s security to be sure that your data is safe on the virtualized servers, wherever they are located. “Make sure that your security configuration is correct” and ensure that several key applications don’t reside on the same servers in case a security problem arises. “You’ve got to be smart about that. Virtualization does a lot of important things, you don’t want everything housed in a single physical platform where you could lose everything with one hit.”

And while you’re in the midst of your review, DiDio suggests spending some time reviewing the terms and conditions of your licensing and support agreements with your virtualization vendors. “Has each vendor been meeting their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with you? If not, don’t hesitate to hold their feet to the fire.”

Licensing agreements can often be overlooked and you don’t want to make that mistake, she said. “You want to make sure you are buying your services from the vendors at the specified levels in your annual agreements. If you are in the mid-point of your agreement, you want to be sure that your purchases are up to snuff and on track at that point.”

That way, you can avoid penalties for underutilizing the services and if you are using more than you anticipated, you can negotiate bigger discounts based on your higher use, DiDio says.

In addition, make sure you realistically judge your vendors on the quality of service they have provided over the life of your contracts. “At review time, take a look at how responsive the vendor was,” she says. “Right now there is a lot of competition for your business” if your vendors aren’t making you happy.

A big item to include on your mid-year review list, according to DiDio, is capacity planning. You want to be sure that your enterprise is using all the virtualization capacity that you are paying for and you also want to be sure that you are getting more capacity when it’s needed so you can avoid performance bottlenecks, she says. “People should be reviewing these things at least twice a year, certainly no less than at least once annually. Large environments have to adjust this as needed, maybe on a quarterly basis.”

Finally, it’s a good idea at this point to take some time to review the hot virtualization topics of remote access and mobility, according to DiDio. Both topics are coming up big in the world of virtualization lately, she says. “Is there any company that doesn’t have an increasing number of workers who are telecommuting or working from home? You need to be able to provision applications and also be able to roll out needed software and operating systems updates and the rest.”

Whatever you do, having a framework from which to conduct a top-to-bottom review of your virtualization strategy and systems is a great starting point to making your systems work more smoothly.

Investing some time periodically to take a fresh look under the hood is always a great preventative measure.

What, you thought you’d install it and then forget about it?

Dream on.