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Virtual Infrastructure Optimization and Virtual Infrastructure Assurance

Jeff Boles has written a very interesting and very informative piece on the importance of virtual infrastructure management, and particularly its optimization in the virtualized datacenter.  He refers to the issue as virtual infrastructure optimization.  Being in the business I'm in ... next generation virtual system management for configuration and fault management ... I really appreciate the attention to virtual infrastructure (or, perhaps, more accurate virtualized infrastructure).  He's said all of the right things about optimization.

While he correctly identifies many of the problem sources -- interdependencies of the virtual and physical systems being key in the argument -- he stresses performance as the aspect or dimension on which to focus.  He then makes the statement: Faced with complexity and potentially catastrophic impacts from any change, administrators face the unknown.

The catastrophic impacts of which he speaks are rarely just a matter of performance optimization.  They are generally issues of infrastructure configuration errors and mismatches ... often mismatches between the virtualized infrastructure (e.g. the virtual switches, portgroups, and VLAN connectivity) and the physical infrastructure (the "hard goods" ... switches, storage systems, firewalls, etc.)  In fact, recent studies by Andi Mann at Enterprise Management Associates regarding virtual system management indicate that the greatest source of unplanned downtime in the virtualized datacenter (ranging from 60 - 70% of all outage incidents) is attributable to configuration errors and mismatch.  This single fact should bring to light the unpleasant truth about the way in which configuration design and on-going configuration management need to be rethought.  

Jeff points out that "...more than 85% of businesses today rely on their initial testing of known 'good' configurations or arbitrary rules of thumb rather than real data when they manage and make decisions about their virtual infrastructures."  Doesn't it make sense to provide analysis of the configurations before their use as the "golden masters", and CONTINUOUS monitoring of the topological and configuration changes being requested by the various players in order to reduce the likelihood of catastrophy? 

I liked the Q&A that Jeff uses to get across the key messages of VIA.  The one I have some trouble with, simply because I don't believe he treats misconfiguration in its entirety, is this one:

Can I immediately drill into the root cause of performance issues in my environment, and discover what happened or changed? 

While a VIO solution may arm an organization with the right data to avoid misconfigurations in the first place, VIO tools can also provide real-time or near real-time visibility into what is happening in an environment, enabling administrators to immediately identify performance anomalies and root causes.  VIO solutions can capture history, providing an audit trail that identifies when problems started, and what happened.

In a sense, what is missing from the article and from his list of virtual systems management products is infrastructure assurance.  It's not just the data required to avoid misconfiguration once an error is detected.  It's also that set of tools and systems deployed for the initial design, at the time there's a major change / revision to the datacenter, and (unlike conventional datacenters) revisited every time a "golden master" is called upon:

  1. the starting configuration is well designed for the very fluid, dynamic environment of a virtualized datacenter,

  2. that the configuration is the combined physical and virtual infrastructure elements, treated as a unified infrastructure rather than as separately designed and managed "physical configurations" and "virtual configurations"

  3. that the instrumentation supports on-going monitoring, analysis and prescriptive actions to counteract "infrastructure drift" and eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) the major causes of catastrophic failure and performance problems.

To Boles' list of key technologies (instrumentation and infrastructure optimization) I would have to add the unified (virtual and physical) infrastructure analysis and directed re-configuration.  The result is virtual infrastructure assurance (VIA) to which VIO then is applied.  These are the technologies (of which Replicate's RDA is one) which provide visibility into the causes and prescriptive actions that actively and continuously reduce virtualized datacenter failure.  These fall logically into his requirement for a holistic view of the entire virtual infrastructure and into the configuration diagnostics that include remedial actions.  Needless to say, I'd like to see these types of discovery, analysis and guidance tools invited to the party.

InfoStor : What is virtual infrastructure optimization (VIO)?, March 2009 Page 1

While the IT practitioner's every day is a swim through waves of invisible bits, there has long been some comfort to be found in the "physicality" and accessibility of key devices. When problems arise, administrators have always been able to identify a switch port for examination, a server at the end of a wire that might be causing problems, an HBA for inspection, or any number of other physical things for further examination. But in today's data center, that comfort has vanished.

In part, this is due to virtualization, and while this trend is spearheaded by server virtualization, variations include application virtualization, network device virtualization, I/O virtualization, storage virtualization, and more.

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