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Managing a Virtualized Data Center by Jim Metzler

In my last blog, I stated that due to factors such as the adoption of virtualization, cloud computing and mobility, that the typical IT environment has changed dramatically in the last few years. The point of that blog was to highlight the fact that since the IT environment has changed so dramatically that IT organizations need to change their approach to management in order to keep pace. For example, IT organizations need to ensure that as the IT environment continues to change, that they have the visibility they need to manage the IT infrastructure. I will use this blog to discuss some of the management challenges that are created by server virtualization.

In the current environment it is possible to virtualize almost every component of IT. That includes servers, storage, switches and appliances such as WAN optimization controllers and application delivery controllers. Many data center vendors, including Cisco, HP and VMware have articulated a long-term vision of where virtualization in the data center is heading. In that vision, data centers evolve to what those vendors refer to as a software defined data center (SDDC). In August 2012 at VMworld in San Francisco VMware defined an SDDC as a datacenter in which all the infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service, and the control of this datacenter is entirely automated by software. As VMware explained both at the conference, in blogs and in interviews, their vision is that the data center will be built largely on commodity processors and that software will provide everything that’s needed to adapt the data center to new situations and new applications, and to manage everything from storage to switches to security.

There is no doubt that over the next two or three years that few if any IT organizations will fully implement an SDDC. There is also no doubt that the majority of IT organizations have already implemented at least some server virtualization in their data centers and that the amount of data center server virtualization will increase over the next two or three years. A virtualized server consists of a number of virtual machines (VMs) and a virtual switch (vSwitch) the role of which is to connect the VMs to each other and to devices outside of the virtualized server.

Unfortunately, the first generation of vSwitches don’t have the same traffic monitoring features as do physical access switches and this can limit the visibility that IT organizations have into the traffic that flows between VMs. For example, this lack of visibility into the inter-VM traffic limits the IT organization’s ability to do security filtering, performance monitoring and troubleshooting within virtualized server domains.

The 2012 Cloud Networking Report contained the results of a survey given to a couple of hundred IT professionals. These IT professionals were given a broad set of management tasks and were asked to indicate how important it was for their organization to get better at each of those tasks over the next year. Almost three quarters of the survey respondents indicated that over the next year that it was at least moderately important for their IT organization to get better at having the visibility into inter-VM traffic that they need in order to better manage this traffic.

As mentioned, there is no doubt that few IT organizations will implement an SDDC any time soon. However, server virtualization is a mainstream activity today and it will only grow in importance over the next few years. IT organizations need to ensure that they have the visibility they need to manage virtualized servers today and that they continue to have the visibility they need as more data center functionality gets virtualized.

Related IT Networking Resources
Part 1: 2012 Cloud Networking Report - The Emergence of Cloud Computing and Cloud Networking
Part 2: 2012 Cloud Networking Report - Data Center LANs
Cloud Service Delivery Monitoring Technical Brief

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