The Life and Death of a Virtual Machine

Dynamic Development

"Our development environment is extremely dynamic. When our guy in India goes to bed at night and our guy in Texas wants to use that virtual-machine slot, the system needs to enable this," says David Graham, CIO at Vignette. "Management needed to fold into the behavior of users requiring this level of access."

A beta version of Hyper9's Virtual Infrastructure Search and Analytics tool, a Google-like search engine that locates and takes reads on the state of virtual machines it finds, shows what's happening with the organization's virtual machines as they're being used, shelved and reused. In addition, VMLogix laboratory-automation software helps Vignette script and monitor the use of the virtual machines.

"Locating physical machines, the virtual machines within them; knowing who set them up, what they're used for, who's changing them; knowing if they need to be erased, where to store them -- these are all areas the developers can manage themselves," Graham says. "Our developers need that level of control."

Nixon Peabody, a global law firm with 1,700 users, has a more centralized approach to virtual-machine life-cycle management. Operations team members use VMware's inherent management features to track and control the specific production, job, SQL and development servers for which they're responsible. Plus, the firm has dedicated a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) to the overall care and feeding of 140 virtual servers running on 13 physical machines in its New York data center, says Peter Allen, director of IT operations at Nixon Peabody, in Rochester, N.Y. (For more on virtualization skills, see "Wanted: virtualization expertise.")

The VCP uses Fortisphere Virtual Essentials management and policy enforcement for overall monitoring and control. The Fortisphere tool discovers all the virtual machines running in an environment; gives a history of those virtual machines; and allows for change, configuration, performance and inventory management without requiring an agent on each virtual machine, Allen says. Fortisphere also supports security at the build and configuration management stages, he adds.

"We needed this tool for the whole change-management process. We want to be alerted when something's changed within the environment," Allen notes. "We've done this without too much layering of tools at this point. And because Fortisphere charges per physical server, we thought that was a reasonable model for our environment."

What Fortisphere doesn't have is the ability to find idle or powered-off machines, but it is working on such capabilities, Allen adds.

Of course, virtual-machine platform tools can be told manually to end the life cycle of a given virtual machine, as long as the system manager is informed and paying attention. What Allen refers to is the automated process of integrating end-of-life rules across multiple virtual-machine brands and types.

For this level of management, Informatica, a data-integration software maker in Redwood City, Calif., is considering FastScale Technology's FastScale Composer Suite. With this tool, IT should be able to manage its physical and virtual environments, including the life cycle of deployed applications, their duration and the reprovisioning of server space once a job is done, says Tony Young, CIO at Informatica, which uses 350 virtual machines.

"I need to let my developers log into a portal and say, 'I need this application for this amount of time,' and when that date hits, they're pinged that the machine is about to die, and 'do you want to renew?'" Young explains. "With FastScale, I can catalog and reprovision all of my virtual machines across my Linux and Windows worlds."

Keep It Basic

As this sampling of use cases shows, you won't find a universal approach to managing virtual environments. In fact, preparing for heterogeneous virtualization is the hardest stage of the virtualization movement, says research firm Gartner in a May research paper on virtualization planning.

"My analogy is to stop thinking of a virtual machine as anything other than a server," Sesame Workshop's Broadwater surmises. "Start slowly, know your environment, plan for allocation and benchmarking and utilization. And set a lifespan, just as you would for a physical server."

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