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How to get more out of your virtualized and cloud environments

Brandon Butler | Dec. 2, 2014
Matt Eastwood, general manager of IDC's enterprise platform group estimates the typical enterprise server runs 10 to 12 virtual machines today at about 30% to 40% capacity but an optimal server utilization rate is usually around 60% to 70%.

Improving IT operations be it through more automated management of services, or using software tools to get more bang for your hardware buck — is a goal every virtual machine administrator has. The problem is finding time to do it. "People know what they need to do," says Brian Kirsch, an IT architectural instructor and board member of the VMware User Group. "But the priority is keeping the lights on. The top priority today is to keep everything up and running."

You can't optimize what you can't see

Johnston says using management tools to build a private cloud or configuration tools like Chef, Puppet and Ansible to automate VM configurations help free up time to focus on gaining efficiencies. But another key is getting a good view of exactly what's going on inside. Bernd Harzog, capacity management analyst at consultancy The Virtualization Practice, says "the single biggest reason [for inefficiency] is the lack of information to comfortably make more aggressive decisions." Virtualization managers generally don't have enough information and visibility into their environments and therefore are afraid of overprovisioning servers and degrading performance.

A whole new segment of vendors have sprouted up to help with this issue. VMTurbo, which Darden used in Garland, is one option. Darden installed the software and within hours had recommended improvements. Two years after the initial install, Darden still uses it daily to monitor his operations, run reports and automate fixes.

Cirba is another company focused on the issue, but takes a somewhat different approach, using an efficiency index to assess workloads and show where improvements can be made. CTO and co-founder Andrew Hillier says the perfect index rating in their system is 1.0 and it is common to find environments running at .5 to .7.

Why? "The way workloads fit together typically looks like a badly played game of Tetris," Hillier says. "Nothing in VMware or other virtualization tools looks at how workloads work together or tries to figure out how to optimally balance them out."

He notes, however, that the optimum utilization rates will vary by workload. For some workloads you want to be conservative, so a 1.0 rating will mean far less utilization than you would push for in less demanding situations.

Another optimization problem is VM sprawl, where there are more VMs provisioned than required. Capacity management tools can help solve that issue too. Harzog of The Virtualization Practice says one key to look for when evaluating tools is to ensure they can be configured to automatically make changes in the environment, instead of just alerting you about the changes that should be made. Both VMTurbo and Cirba do that.


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