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[Jun 24, 2008] 7 side effects of sloppy virtualization - Network World By Denise Dubie

06/24/2008 | Network World ,

Virtualization can cause as many problems as it solves if left unmanaged, according to Gartner.

IT professionals may initially be awestruck by the promises of virtualization, but Gartner analysts warn that awe could turn into upset when organizations start to suffer from seven nasty side effects.

David Coyle, research vice president at Gartner, detailed the seven side effects at the research firm's Infrastructure, Operations and Management Summit, which drew nearly 900 attendees. While virtualization promises to solve issues such as underutilization, high hardware costs and poor system availability, the benefits come only when the technology is applied with proper care and consistently monitored for change, Coyle explained.

Here are the reasons Gartner says virtualization is no IT cure-all:

1. Magnified failures. In the physical world, a server hardware failure typically would mean one server failed and backup servers would step in to prevent downtime. In the virtual world, depending on the number of virtual machines residing on a physical box, a hardware failure could impact multiple virtual servers and the applications they host.

"Failures will have a much larger impact, effecting multiple operating systems, multiple applications and those little tiny fires will turn into big fires fast," Coyle said.

2. Degraded performance. Companies looking to ensure top performance of critical applications often dedicate server, network and storage resources for those applications, segmenting them from other traffic to ensure they get the resources they need. With virtualization, sharing resources that can be automatically allocated on demand is the goal in a dynamic environment. At any given time, performance of an application could degrade, perhaps not to a failure, but slower than desired.

3. Obsolete skills. IT might not realize the skill sets it has in-house won't apply to a large virtualized production environment until they have it live. The skills needed to manage virtual environments should span all levels of support, including service desk operators who may be fielding calls regarding their virtual PCs. Companies will feel a bit of a talent shortage when moving toward more virtualized systems, and Coyle recommends starting the training now.

"Virtualized environments require enhanced skill sets, and virtual training across many disciplines," he said.

4. Complex root cause analysis. Virtual machines move -- that is the part of their appeal. But as Coyle pointed out, it is also a potential issue when managing problems. Server problems in the past could be limited to one box, but now the problem can move with the virtual machine and lull IT staff into a false sense of security.

"Is the problem fixed or did you just lose it? You can't tell in a virtual environment," Coyle said. "Are you just transferring the problem around from virtual server to virtual server?"

5. No standardization. Tools and processes used to address the physical environment can't be directly applied to the virtual world, so many IT shops will have to think about standardizing how they address issues in the virtual environment.

"Mature tools and processes must be revamped," Coyle said.

6. Virtual machine sprawl. The most documented side effect to date, virtual server sprawl results from the combination of ease of deployment and lack of life-cycle management of virtual machines. The issue could cause consolidation efforts to go awry when more virtual machines crop up than there are server administrators to manage them.

"The virtualized environment is in constant flux," he said.

7. May be habit forming. Once IT organizations start to use virtualization, they can't stop themselves, Coyle said. He offered tips to help curb the damage done from giving into a virtual addiction.

"Start small. Map dependencies. Create strong change processes. Update runbooks. Invest in capacity management tools. And test, test, test," he said.

[Oct 25, 2007] Virtualization Decreases Security

'You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes.'

ParaFan writes "In a fascinating story on KernelTrap, Theo de Raadt asserts that while virtualization can increase hardware utilization, it does not in any way improve security. In fact, he contends the exact opposite is true:

'You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes.'

de Raadt argues that the lack of support for process isolation on x86 hardware combined with numerous bugs in the architecture are a formula for virtualization decreasing overall security, not increasing it."

[Aug 02, 2007] XenSource's Simon Crosby speaks out by Manek Dubash

"For virtualization to be prolific, there has to be a step up in terms of know-how. "
August 02, 2007 | Techworld

Open source virtualization developer XenSource has just inked a deal with Symantec to collaborate on embedding Veritas Storage Foundation into XenEnterprise, and delivering HA/DR and backup technology to XenSource's customers. In the wake of that deal, founder and CTO Simon Crosby was in London recently to explain the background to the deal. He also delivers his trenchant thoughts on the future of the virtualization industry -- and launches a serious critique of VMware and even of business partner Microsoft.

Q: How do you see the future of the virtualization market? A: The world has created a new Microsoft -- there's a monster embedded in our industry. So the market is starting to crystallize, partly as a consequence of the way that VMware is building its company. They just want to sell more and more, and it's starting to step on people's toes.

Q: Is VMware really that horrible? A: Unlike VMware, Microsoft doesn't compete with its channel but leaves room for an ecosystem. It's a superb platform player. Microsoft is very conscious of its scale and leaves pockets of $100m markets around for its partners. Our relationship with Microsoft is strong, will remain strong, and strengthens every day. Microsoft has been a very supportive partner.

The chink in VMware's armor is the weakness of its ecosystem -- all its partners are under threat. That said, I wouldn't fault VMware entirely. VMware has grown very fast -- they had to do that so I can't fault them for it, but no-one's making money out of VMware. There's a general sense of unease.

Q: Will virtualization technology be absorbed into the OS? A: There's plenty of scope for development. Microsoft's Viridian feature set has been slashed because the features in the kernel of Server 2008 were fixed and there was otherwise an overlap between it and Viridian. And Red Hat and Novell haven't done much with Xen yet. None of the virtualization platforms are anything but a way of virtualizing themselves.

We have managed to benefit from relationships on both sides. Open source is a very clearly articulated argument -- it's about aligning a community around a common codebase. Some of the open source software (OSS) vendors compete with each other not with the bigger guys. OSS generates pull-through because the customers get a richer set of services -- it's a longer term play. We believe that the virtualization engine is a standard, commoditized product that has to be open. It must address a range of CPUs, and have a big hardware footprint.

It's also important not to make it the whole product so others get an incentive to take it to market. We don't do an ESX [VMware's flagship product] -- that's a car not an engine -- because an engine is more flexible, you can use it anywhere and it gives space for others to develop, and they have financial incentives to do so.

Q: Why is Microsoft not perceived as the big Satan now? A: The consent decree has changed things -- there are 1,400 lawyers at Microsoft. In every conversation with them we find they're absolutely egalitarian about access to APIs. They have huge market control but they realize they have to embrace and manage open source. That means they have to interoperate and work with it, because they know they can't eliminate it -- the world's changed. Also they're huge so their ability to innovate gets clogged up, which leaves tons of space for others to innovate -- they've learned to cooperate with others in markets they can't get to.

Also, I think in terms of the scale of everything Microsoft does, virtualization is only a minor project in a monster organization. Virtualization has become the major shaping force in the industry -- and they [Microsoft] said that they thought that more VMs meant more revenue but they're changing that as customers need to know that it's OK to start Windows in a VM.

Q: Will this change? A: I don't know where they're going with this -- it could be that things are taking longer. The policy is rational but they haven't communicated that to the market yet. It's a huge opportunity for someone to be make a product to manage licensing -- using technology used for DRM and licensing so that you know how long an OS has run etc. It would need to be an independent verifiable source for legal licensing.

Q: Will Xen continue to use the same technology in future -- in other words, para-virtualization? A: Para-virtualization is an awful name: if someone asks what would you rather have, full virtualization or para-virtualization, what's your answer? The aim was to encourage OS vendors to make the OS ready for virtualization -- but 95 percent of applications and OSes are legacy, unvirtualized.

Para-virtualization is relevant in another content -- we use para-virtualized I/O and timers etc by inserting drivers etc into Windows to get a fast stack working. From a product perspective, it means the guest automatically installs the right software and it just works. We hook into the HAL and get the best performance.

But most of the OSes aren't para-virtualized -- there's only RHEL 5 and SLES 10. The important thing is that in future every OS will be ready to run on a hypervisor. [Intel's] VT gives us everything else.

Q: How do you see virtualization evolving over the next two years? A: Hardware vendors will certify the hypervisor and it's up to the customer to do everything else. Customers want to virtualized everything else because the savings are so huge -- the confidence in virtualization is high but it's too complex for the average guy.

On the client, virtualization technology has to be invisible and work using [management] technology such as Intel's vPro. There also has to be a viable ecosystem or it's a niche product.

The world will break into two camps: VMware, where you add more features and sell more software, or open source. We're just a great component -- we do a fantastic job of server virtualization working with best of breed partners -- we plug into storage virtualization and it all works.

We have agreements with people such as Stratus and Marathon -- there's lots we've not announced yet. Virtualization will be another category of IT admin -- you'll find virtualization specialists much as you have database specialists etc now.

Q: What about skill sets? A: Lack of skill sets is a major barrier to take-up. We have over 300 certified partners, over 500 certified trained partner engineers worldwide who train the trainers -- we have a course that partners can resell. For virtualization to be prolific, there has to be a step up in terms of know-how.

[Sep 25, 2007] Container-based Operating System Virtualization: A Scalable, High-performance Alternative to Hypervisors Stephen Soltesz, Herbert P¨otzl , Marc E. Fiuczynski, Andy Bavier, and Larry Peterson Princeton University, fsoltesz,mef,acb,llpg@cs.princeton.edu
Linux VServer Maintainer herbert@13th oor.at

An important paper comparing performance of para-virtualization approaches (eg Xen) with OS-level virtualization (jails). The authors shows that jail-style virtualization has tremendous advantages in typical scenarios.

Hypervisors, popularized by Xen and VMware, are quickly becoming commodity. They are appropriate for many usage scenarios, but there are scenarios that require system virtualization with high degrees of both isolation and efficiency. Examples include HPC clusters, the Grid, hosting centers, and PlanetLab. We present an alternative to hypervisors that is better suited to such scenarios. The approach is a synthesis of prior work on resource containers and security containers applied to general-purpose, time-shared operating systems. Examples of such container-based systems include Solaris 10, Virtuozzo for Linux, and Linux- VServer. As a representative instance of container-based systems, this paper describes the design and implementation of Linux-VServer. In addition, it contrasts the architecture of Linux-VServer with current generations of Xen, and shows how Linux-VServer provides comparable support for isolation and superior system efficiency.

Sys Admin v16, i04 Navigating the System Virtualization Maze -- Part 1

For systems virtualization, products and product marketing have given us several variations on the theme of "one system pretending to be many systems". These can be segregated into several categories, as follows.

[Mar 2, 2007] The Virtualization Procrastinators What's The Holdup

Fear Factor

Shahri Moin, IT director at Oscient Pharmaceuticals Corp. in Waltham, Mass., is testing Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. So far, so good, he says, but Moin has reservations about upsetting the status quo. “Putting it in production scares the daylights out of me,” he acknowledges. And since he has just a few dozen servers to manage, the most common motivation for adopting virtualization — consolidation — isn’t a big concern. “It’s not going to allow me in a meaningful way to reduce staff or operating costs,” Moin says.

PerkinElmer first started using virtual machines in 2005 in a project designed to address space, power and cooling problems in its Boston data center by consolidating physical servers. Jeff Brittain, IT director for the city of Hickory, N.C., found another way to achieve a similar goal. He tested Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 but decided to migrate 40 rack-mounted servers to IBM blade servers instead. “That is accomplishing the consolidation we were looking at,” he says. With no pressing reason to go ahead with Virtual Server, he says he’ll revisit the technology “down the road.”

John Nordin, CIO at Insurance Auto Auctions Inc. in Westchester, Ill., has been testing VMware, but he says he doesn’t trust the technology enough to use it on the 130 servers that run the company’s auction business.

During an auction, a car is sold every 40 seconds, and many bids come in electronically. With 750,000 auctions a year, Nordin says he can’t afford problems. “This is super-mission-critical stuff. When it isn’t there, we can see it on the bottom line,” he says.

In early testing of VMware, a virtual server inexplicably reverted back to a prior configuration. That corrupted the system, which had to be restored from tape. Nordin says explanations from his vendors, VMware and Microsoft, haven’t been forthcoming. “I got a lot of the classic multivendor finger-pointing,” he says. “Nobody has been able to give me a root cause, and this thing is never seeing production until I know why this happened.” Even if those answers come, Nordin says, he’ll start out slowly by using the technology only on his print servers.

Bob Holstein, CIO at National Public Radio Inc., isn’t worried about the reliability of VMware ESX Server, which he calls “rock-solid and production-worthy.” He’s testing the product now and plans to do a small rollout on production servers later this year. If all goes according to plan, application servers with low utilization rates will be consolidated and then moved to a collocation facility to make room for more servers that handle live digital audio feeds for NPR’s radio programs. Those servers will stay on physical hardware, however. “Those vendors are not going to support a virtual environment, and they’re too mission-critical to take that risk,” Holstein says.

“I have a ‘show me’ attitude about [VMware] right now,” Holstein says, adding that staffers need to get plenty of hands-on experience with the technology before moving to a production environment.

Nordin agrees. “People who haven’t worked in any partitioned environment shouldn’t underestimate what their system engineers need to learn,” he says. “Make sure you put the training dollars in.”

“Virtualization is kind of a leap of faith,” says Mike French, senior network engineer at Perkin�Elmer. He has spent time explaining the technology to his peers. “It’s a tough thing to break the barrier, but if you build the environment rock-solid with redundancy and safeguards, nobody should ever have a problem.”

Although the technology has been in use for several years, it’s still common to find applications that aren’t supported on virtual machines. “A lot of vendors won’t certify applications as VMware-compatible,” Dattilo says. “In most cases, we assumed the risk, unless it was a mission-critical application.”

A VMware spokesman says that the problem has diminished. Indeed, a few of Dattilo’s vendors, such as Hyperion Solutions Corp. and Business Objects SA, have begun supporting virtual machines since he started working with the technology. As for the others, Dattilo says that most software vendors’ support organizations will still work with his staff on problems, but he hasn’t had any so far.

Nordin says the fact that some software vendors still don’t support applications on virtual servers is evidence that the market still isn’t fully mature.

“Those types of issues have been long resolved in the MVS, VM and Unix space,” he says, adding that server virtualization products “need to get going.” With Red Hat, SUSE and Microsoft embedding hypervisors into the Linux and Windows operating systems, however, application vendors will have little choice but to support it, analysts say.

Software vendors aren’t the only ones who’ve been slow to support their products running in virtual servers. Jon Elsasser, CIO at The Timken Co. in Canton, Ohio, says IT staff resistance to deploying homegrown applications on virtual machines has stopped some projects. “Some internal application-support personnel are a bit leery of it,” Elsasser says, but he expects attitudes to change over time.

Slow Uptake


Even companies that have embraced virtual server technology have limited its penetration into the data center. Those that have adopted virtualization have, on average, only about 20% of their environment virtualized, according to IDC analyst John Humphreys.

After a pilot last year, Timken went on to virtualize 35% of its servers. It now has 125 virtual servers running on six quad-processor physical machines, but Elsasser has no plans to expand beyond that. The 100 Windows and SQL servers supporting a new SAP ERP software implementation are off-limits to virtualization, he says. “At this point, we’re just glad it’s running,” Elsasser says.

At PerkinElmer, Dattilo’s goal is to have 52% of servers virtualized by the time the current project there is completed. That includes application servers with relatively low utilization levels, but others, such as Exchange Server mailbox nodes, are staying put.

Payton plans to roll out virtualization at Case Design/Remodeling this fall. “We’ll stay away from Exchange and SQL Server” and focus on low-utilization applications like domain controllers and file- and print-sharing servers, he says. Most users aren’t ready to consider virtualization for important applications, says IDC analyst Steven Elliot. “The really mission-critical stuff is further down the line,” he says.

Tools for managing virtual machines are still evolving, and their availability is “still a little light,” says Dattilo. However, he adds that tools included with the recently introduced VMware Infrastructure 3 Enterprise Edition have solved some of his problems. Currently, every virtual machine on a physical server needs its own instance of Backup Exec. VMware Consolidated Backup eliminates that problem.

Distributing loads across virtual machines — a time-consuming, manual process today — can be automated using Distributed Resource Scheduler. Payton has been testing with the previous version of VMware and says, “We’re running into CPU utilization problems because the limit is set statically.” He and Dattilo both plan to migrate to the new version.

With VMware so far ahead of the competition, there’s little pressure on pricing today. “Software licensing costs are a little high, and their maintenance is out of this world,” says Dattilo. Application software licensing on virtual machines is also in flux. “There’s a lot of confusion among application vendors as to how those will be licensed,” he says, noting he doesn’t want to pay a per-proc�essor premium for running on a quad-processor machine when an application is running in a virtual machine and using just a fraction of those resources.

Analysts expect the adoption curve to accelerate this year as users become more comfortable with virtualization technology. Says Elliot, “2006 is the year of production for large enterprises.”

But that doesn’t mean everyone should rush ahead. “If you don’t have a clear benefit from virtualization today, you can wait,” says Reynolds. That said, most companies will find at least some immediate benefits, whether from consolidation or reduced server configuration and deployment costs. Elsasser says server procurement time savings made his project worthwhile. “It used to take two weeks to deploy a new server,” he says. “Now we can do it in two days, and in an emergency, we can do it in an hour.”

A compromise strategy is to focus on “high-value production deployments” but put off broader implementations, says Reynolds. The next version of Windows Server will offer technology to compete with VMware in 18 months or so, and Linux distributions with virtualization technology will be here even sooner. With those competitive pressures, “VMware could become significantly less expensive,” Reynolds says.

[Mar 09, 2006] Slashdot Virtualization Is Not All Roses

 



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