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5 Reasons Why Virtualization Could Turn into a Nightmare Without Configuration Management


5 Reasons Why Virtualization Could Turn into a Nightmare Without Configuration Management


There are some popular myths about virtualization. One of those myths is that virtualization configuration management is just not important. This assumption comes from the belief that with virtualization you can easily "undo changes" and just rollback the virtual environment to snapshot images of the environment.

The reality is that Change Management and Configuration management is crucial for virtualized environments. 

Recovery to the snapshot is not always possible. You may have a complex application that spans dozens and dozens of servers with different levels of permissions and has an evolving data scheme. It's not very easy to stop at this point and just rollback to the previous image, as you can lose critical business functionality and critical business data. Also a snapshot only includes the information and data that is required to roll back the status of a VM to a previous point-in-time. If something goes wrong after the snapshot is taken, you can effectively throw it away -- starting over where you were before the snapshot.  

Status quo policies and procedures for IT infrastructure are significantly impacted with the implementation of the first virtual machine (VM) host. Yet many IT professionals still believe that they don't need to address their  IT configuration management processes and technology for their virtual infrastructure.

It's true that virtualizing the data center has the potential to make better use of server resources. Yet any increase in ROI can quickly be consumed when user productivity decreases as a result of virtualization configuration management challenges as virtual servers fail to perform as they did prior to being virtualized.

How can enterprises today best manage the wide range of risk that poor virtualization configuration management introduces to virtualization innovations?

Here are 5 reasons why you should make sure that solid virtualization configuration management is in place to meet the demands of the virtual world.

#1  Kiss Visibility and Control Good-bye?

The abstraction of IT resources inherent in virtualization means that virtualization management administrators cannot easily see the details of virtual machine (VM) content, especially in larger environments. The ease of VM deployment and features like live migration drive dynamic workload agility, but also avoid traditional safeguards like approval or procurement steps that had ensured integrity.

In addition topology changes all the time due to dynamic resource allocation. So the result is that at some point you find yourself having no clue about what runs where.

With virtualization playing a major role in driving the growth in today's IT infrastructure, maintaining configuration standards becomes paramount to optimizing service delivery. Without robust change management automation capable of handling configuration management at virtualization speeds, IT can spend hours trying to identify and locate Virtual Machine configurations when problems occur – and they do. You need automated process support to ensure that you still can be fast while maintaining control. For example, let's say a set of machines are running with a certain component. Then the image is updated. After that more resources need to be added. A new image is used. Very quickly a situation has come about where several versions of components are running in the same environment. This exposes the system to discrepancies in configurations running in the same environment.

#2 Fast and Furious Virtualization Multiplies the Risks from Configuration Issues

The main challenge to maintaining an effective configuration management effort in a virtual environment is managing dynamic change at breakneck speeds. One of the primary value propositions of virtualization is the ability to dynamically provision and de-provision servers based on demand. This goes well beyond the ability to quickly add or remove environments. With this level of automation you need to be very aware of what is happening in environments in order to manage change. 

"The IT processes that an organization has developed for years are generally not set up for 'speed' and rapid change. Asset management, configuration management, performance management, and capacity planning all must be modified and must embrace a much more dynamic environment. Gartner has encountered many organizations that have virtualized too far, too fast. Their management tools and processes did not keep up, and the result was increased, rather than decreased, complexity - speed led to virtualization sprawl. (Server Virtualization: One Path That Leads to Cloud Computing)

"The velocity of change complicates configuration and change management, multiplying the risks that arise from incorrect architecture or accident. Real-time scaling and transience, with new virtual machines added, moved and deleted at a break-neck pace, combined with reduced visibility into the virtual infrastructure, make virtual IT configuration and security dramatically different from physical IT." (Virtualization Audit 101: The top 5 risks and recommendations for protecting your virtual IT)

Virtual machine sprawl has become a logistical nightmare, as virtual servers are created so rapidly that it becomes difficult to keep track of each one's purpose, and of which ones are currently in use. (Avoiding the Pitfalls of Virtualization)

#3 Virtualization Sprawl Complicates Configuration Management

Alongside the benefits, server virtualization introduces major hazards to IT operations. Virtualization sprawl expands the challenge of managing configurations and maintaining consistent VM configurations. 
The biggest problem is the very high risk of sprawl or proliferation of virtual servers. Sprawl is a familiar problem for physical servers, but it is much more likely to happen in the virtual world, and to happen much faster. 
(Avoiding the Pitfalls of Server Virtualization)

For most environments, operating systems need to have consistent configuration in areas such as administrative access, encryption settings, antivirus or malware protection and network settings. While streamlining these operations can pose problems for physical infrastructures, it can cause even bigger virtualization infrastructure problems. (Five virtualization sprawl warning signs)

#4 Lack of Configuration Management for Virtualization Increases Chances of Outages

To prevent unscheduled outages the virtual infrastructure requires even more rigorous controls and configuration management practices. 
Unauthorized, undocumented and untested changes to consolidated [virtual] servers could cause outages to many parts of the business that can't be fixed with a midmorning reboot. For virtualized environments, a configuration management process is essential to retain the benefits and cost savings of consolidation [virtualization]. (Virtualization dangers and how to avoid them)

The velocity of change made possible by virtualization necessitates measurable and enforceable policies for configuration and change management. Eighty percent of data breaches arise from misconfiguration. With less than five minutes required to provision, configure or relocate a new virtual server, the window of opportunity for detecting misconfiguration is short. (Virtualization Audit 101: The top 5 risks and recommendations for protecting your virtual IT)

#5 The New Complexities of Virtualization Undo Configuration Management Progress

IT organizations need to address server configuration management in their environments with a new urgency in order to continue to enjoy virtualization's promises. First, this having a comprehensive plan to address physical server  IT configuration management needs. Second, as part of the overall server configuration management approach, they need to incorporate virtualization's new server configuration-related dynamics.

"Many IT organizations approach configuration management in their server infrastructure in a piecemeal fashion," said Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner. "With the advent of virtual server technology, new complexities can undo even modest past configuration management progress."  (Virtualization: What You Don't Know Can Really Hurt You)

About the Author
Martin Perlin