Today's focus: Virtualization not a panacea

By Andreas M. Antonopoulos

Virtual-machine technology gained visibility in 2005 as
companies consolidated servers and deployed shared resources to
reduce spending on new servers. Applying technologies such as
VMware and Xen, companies have been able to increase server
utilization and therefore cut costs. Given these savings,
adoption of virtual machine technology is likely to increase in
2006. Managing and auditing virtual machines is, however, a
challenge for IT executives.

If you replace a single operating system image on a server with
eight virtual machines, you may have inadvertently increased the
complexity of managing the system by a factor of eight.

Virtualization does not, in itself, reduce the complexity of IT
systems. In fact, quite the opposite - virtualization may
temporarily increase complexity. Virtualization does provide
standardization of the infrastructure, by abstracting the
differences in hardware platforms and creating a homogeneous
environment for the operating system. Operational costs for
managing and auditing virtual machines are therefore likely to
depend on the level of automation that can be introduced into a
VM-based data center. By deploying automatic provisioning and
auditing tools, IT executives can take advantage of the
standardization provided by the VM and reduce operational costs.
This is particularly important in the face of onerous regulatory
compliance requirements.

In our recent discussions with IT executives, we have found that
regulatory compliance is an important consideration in the
adoption of compute virtualization. Auditing for regulatory
compliance often involves collecting tens of thousands of log
entries per day. In a virtualized environment, this challenge
changes in two ways: On the one hand, more virtual machines
(perhaps up to eight per physical server) generate more log
entries and require storage and correlation on a larger scale.
On the other hand, having a homogeneous platform means that it
is easier to automate many aspects of the auditing and
management software.

Companies embarking on a virtualization strategy must carefully
consider the operational implications. Virtual machines can
undoubtedly reduce capital expenditures on new servers. But,
unless accompanied by automation of management and auditing
tasks, virtualization can actually increase both the complexity
and cost of management auditing and regulatory compliance.

Compute virtualization vendors offer management applications
that make it easier to provision virtual machines. Many
third-party tools for auditing and compliance can also be
deployed on a virtual machine. Companies should consider
automated management and auditing tools as prerequisites for a
successful virtualization strategy.

Copyright Network World, Inc., 2006

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008