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Five considerations for a successful VMware deployment

Deploying VMware is easy; doing it well may not be. These five considerations for successful deployment may point the way.

Editor's note: Deploying VMware is easy; doing it well may not be. These five considerations for a successful enterprise-level...

VMware deployment will point the way.

The primary competition to VMware is not Citrix, Microsoft or Oracle; it's corporate inertia. VMware has skyrocketed past a billion dollars in sales and is expected to hit $2 billion in 2008. But even with all of the success and hype around VMware and virtualization in general, only 9% of new servers are deployed as virtualization hosts.

Organizations are missing out on virtualization's economic, reliability and scalability benefits because their IT staffs lack the knowledge of how to go about a successful deployment. It is generally not the technical understanding that is missing, but rather a failure to take a big picture approach to virtualization. In this tip, I offer some ways to get started with VMware virtualization and finish a winner.

Develop an enterprise virtualization vision from the start.

VMware technology has an exceptional "cool" factor. The ability to move a virtual machine from one physical host to another with no disruption to user sessions; the ability to deploy new servers in seconds; and the ability to create virtual sandboxes to emulate production environments are just three of the many compelling attributes of the technology.

The wow factor of the technology has played a large part in prompting IT technicians to deploy VMware Server or even ESX for a point solution, such as enhancing a development lab or virtualizing a failing server. Once a beachhead is established, VMware tends to spread erratically throughout the organization as various departmental IT staffs become excited by the technology and implement it for resolving their own specific issues.

The end result is that VMware becomes a defacto enterprise platform for the organization where virtualization is the default for all new servers. The process, though, is inefficient.

Corporate resources are wasted while virtualization slowly spreads as new physical servers, air conditioners and clustering solutions continue to be purchased. The virtual infrastructure itself also tends to be a hodgepodge solution without the streamlined efficiencies in servers, storage, network, staffing and so on that architecting on an enterprise scale enables.

Treat virtualization as an enterprise project.

When virtualization starts out as a grass roots initiative, the tendency is to facilitate its proliferation toward an enterprise platform without the assessment, planning, piloting, project management, metrics and ongoing monitoring that is prerequisite to any successful enterprise deployment. Organizations would never think to deploy an ERP (enterprise resource planning) application in this manner, yet VMware Server, in particular, is implemented on an ad hoc basis every day. In addition to inefficient utilization of corporate resources, this approach carries increased risk of project failure.

Sell the virtualization vision internally.

Organizations generally need consensus of many individuals in order to make a major decision such as implementing a new IT architecture. Winning approval for an enterprise deployment of VMware requires internal "selling."

Any good IT sales job starts with a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. VMware offers a total cost of ownership (TCO) and ROI analysis tool that actually gives objective results. Other users have had the same experience.

From my experience as a virtualization consultant, I've seen VMware platforms deliver IT infrastructure savings through consolidation of servers and through containment of future server growth. Virtualization also enables high availability, decreased staffing resources, enhanced test/development integration and superior disaster recovery.

Put together a comprehensive report for senior management that includes the ROI results along with all of the other qualitative benefits. The benefits of virtualization should also be highlighted in terms of their alignment with overall corporate objectives.

Some people think that deploying virtualization will negatively impact the timeline of scheduled IT projects. That hasn't been true of the projects I've handled. Despite its ubiquity throughout the IT infrastructure, virtualization rarely impedes upon other projects and often can accelerate them. Some obvious examples include the capability of virtualization to dramatically simplify an Exchange migration, Active Directory implementation or data center move.

Take a holistic approach to virtual Infrastructure.

All too often organizations are focused strictly on server virtualization. Servers, though, are just one component of a virtual infrastructure. By looking at storage, networking, backups, disaster recovery and clients holistically, a more elegant and cost-effective enterprise solution can be designed and deployed. Here are some examples:

  • Storage: Storage in a VMware infrastructure is a world where all virtual machines reside upon the SAN (Storage Area Network). This is what enables the magic of VMware tools like VMotion, High Availability, Consolidated Backup and Distributed Resource Scheduling.

    EMC originally purchased VMware with the intention of driving storage demand, which it certainly did. But VMware's technologies are also helping accelerate the commoditization of storage by incorporating functionality previously touted by SAN manufacturers as a differentiating advantage. Server snapshots, migrations, and multipath software are examples of features that have become largely irrelevant in VMware's virtual infrastructure which provides these features through disk abstraction.

    A new generation of networked storage is capitalizing on the disruptive shift in computing infrastructures with arrays designed to optimize the storage commoditization virtualization promotes. Selecting the optimal storage virtualization paradigm is therefore the key to a successful virtual infrastructure design.

  • Networking: Optimal use of the VMware virtual switch enables much faster communication between servers and provides a more fault-tolerant and efficient architecture.
  • Backups: Backing up data with VMware can be accomplished in two ways: at the traditional file level; and at the .vmdk (virtual machine) level.

    Incorporating backup into the holistic virtual infrastructure vision enables elimination of concerns such as diminishing backup windows while providing for lower cost but much more effective backup solutions.

  • Disaster recovery (DR): Truly effective disaster recovery in a physical world is nearly impossible to accomplish at any reasonable price. In a virtual infrastructure, effective DR practically becomes a byproduct of virtualizing the production environment.

    With the proper replication methodologies in place, organizations can continuously back up not only their data, but also their servers to an off-site DR facility. In the event of a disaster, it becomes possible for all of the production servers to be up and running within minutes.

  • Clients: The virtualized client is rapidly becoming a key component of a virtual infrastructure. The ability to provide users with a virtual desktop that follows them around facilitates more effective disaster recovery while also lowering the cost of deploying and managing PCs.

    Finally, virtual appliances should be a part of any virtual infrastructure planning. The ability to provide virtual machines that do everything from data replication to FTP serving to providing firewalls lowers costs while increasing both reliability and flexibility over the physical equivalents.

Consider the social and political environment.

Some organizations have external factors that simply make an enterprise approach to virtualization unlikely. A pharmaceutical company, for instance, may put regulatory compliance above all economic considerations; no big IT infrastructure changes are going to happen very quickly. Internal politics also must be considered.

Building a virtual infrastructure is not simply about changing a physical server to a virtual server. An enterprise virtual infrastructure architecture impacts every area of IT.

Consider networking. The organization's Ethernet switch fabric is collapsed down to the ESX servers and VLAN tagging operations are integrated into the ESX environment. As the network flattens, it crosses jurisdictions between server and network teams, shifting more control to the former. And because the DMZ is also collapsed into a collapsed network architecture, the security team also needs to be involved.

All IT stakeholders should participate in the virtual infrastructure planning from networking to storage to development.

No time like the present

The question of whether to implement enterprise virtualization is not one of if, but when. The overwhelming benefits from cost reduction, high availability, manageability and flexibility are just too great for there to be any other outcome. The organizations that understand and embrace virtual infrastructure faster gain a competitive advantage over organizations slower to adopt virtualization as an enterprise platform.

About the author: Steve Kaplan is president of AccessFlow, a consulting firm focused on enterprise virtualization and a VMware Premier Partner.

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