Virtualization, cloud computing and SaaS is changing how we compute, how we think about IT services, and how we manage these services. Virtualization provides some great benefits, such as rapid deployment and better resource utilization, but the technology also raises some new server management concerns. Here are a few items that have popped up on my radar as we continue to virtualize our infrastructure.

Going Virtual

Last year, rackAID converted most of our internal operation from physical, dedicated servers to virtual ones. Since is is based on Linux, we chose the Xen hypervisor and went with Citrix to get a supported distribution. Citrix offers a free XenServer product as well as a paid version with more advanced features.
During this transition, we ran across a few issues that relate to how we provision and manage servers. As more and more of our clients adopt virtualized infrastructure and cloud computing, I see these various server management tasks becoming increasingly common in our day to day work.

Physical to Virtual Migration (P2V)

One of the first challenges you face when considering virtualization is how to get from your physical, dedicated server environment to your virtualization platform. Internally, we simply re-deployed our servers rather than convert existing ones. We took this route, though it was more work, because we wanted to restructure some of our operations. However, this path may not make sense for a small business with a handful of servers. You may simply want to clone your physical environment into a virtual one.

Fortunately, there are many tools emerging for this task. We are working on procedures to use our R1Soft CDP server backup software to be able to do P2V migrations. XenServer provides a tool but if you lack the 3 essential tools for remote server management, then you may not be able to use their tool.

If you are looking at virtualization, the P2V challenge will be one of the first server management hurdles you must clear. If you are outsourcing, you will want to be sure your firm understands how to virtualize physical system. You don’t want configuration changes impacting stable operations.

Monitoring Challenges

With a dedicated server, you just need to track the server itself. With virtualization, you need to track the host and guests. Monitoring resource utilization is critical if you are using multi-tenant solutions where more than one client may be hosted on the same physical server.

There are many solutions available, at rackAID we use Cacti, Nagios and some of the tools built into Citrix, but this is something you need to consider as your virtualize. This adds a level of complexity and increases monitoring requirements. So you will want to way the benefits of virtualizing to these new server management challenges.

Once again, if you are outsourcing your server management, you will want to assure that the company has the monitoring capabilities to keep track of your new virtualized environment.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Now that you have virtualized, you need to review your backup and recovery operations. The tricks and tools you use with your physical servers may not translate in your virtual environment. Also, the virtualization technology may bring some new capabilities. We are currently wrapping up a second round of product testing with R1Soft CDP and Citrix XenServer, so when that work is complete, I will be sure to share the results.

Backup and recovery is key to good server management practices. So you will want to carefully review your currently solutions and be sure they work with your newly virtualized environment.

Virtualization Creep

As you embrace virtualization, you may find the urge to virtualize everything. If you outsource your server management, you will want to consider how this may impact your server management contracts and expenses. The money you save you hardware may need to be reallocated to new management work. If you take your server that currently delivers email, web and database services and virtualize it into three systems, you now have 3x the servers to manage. So while you may gain operational flexibility, improved security and better asset utilization, you will be increasing your server management tasks. Automation certainly helps with this, but it is something to consider.

Your Challenges?

If you have virtualized your environment, what new server management challenges have you faced? I am curious what clever solutions or what problems you’ve faced as you embrace this new technology.