Managing a virtual environment is a lot like cleaning your car: No matter how many times you run the vacuum head over the carpet, the sand just bounces around among the fibers.
In the IT world, virtual machines would be the sand and your data center infrastructure would be the carpet. You, of course, are the poor laborer trying to pick up all these pieces of sand with technology that is clearly not up to the job.
That virtualization requires a new kind of management architecture is well known. What's new is how some of the leading systems are now being integrated into wider platforms aimed at providing a single point of control over all manner of data center functions -- from application and resource environments to business services and cloud computing.
It's a market that set to grow like gangbusters over the next few years, according to IDC. The research firm predicts a 21 percent increase by 2013, topping off at $2.3 billion. The rollout will follow a predictable pattern: enterprises will get drawn into virtualization through its consolidation benefits, which come as a godsend as pressure to do more with less mounts, and then have to scramble to put in place the proper management structure to keep tabs on all these virtual machines.
That's why we're seeing a flood of new management systems of late, nearly all of them couched under the rubric of "business services management" or some other overarching moniker.
HP, for example, recently updated its BSA suite with new capabilities gained from the Opsware acquisition. The package now has the ability to discover and map VMware hosts to storage and SAN dependencies as a means to reclaim and reallocate storage capacity. Also new is the ability to automate workflow tasks across VMware, Citrix and Microsoft server, network and storage environments.
Cisco is also getting up to speed, announcing this week that it will acquire application management firm Tidal Software for $105 million and fold its technology into the Unified Computing System. The move brings a range of functions, such as job scheduling, BI automation, virtual infrastructure management and application performance management into the platform -- all compatible with SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and custom apps built on Java and .Net.
Meanwhile, Novell users are about to see a new management stack for their platform -- one that's based around the idea of the "service-driven data center." The idea is to do away with the traditional IT-centric view of the datacenter and approach it more from the business side. To that end, the company is building its new management stack on an ITIL blueprint aboard the new SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 operating system, with a heavy dose of virtualization and workload management from the former PlateSpin.
I've said before that the time to set up a virtual management regime is before virtualization takes hold of the data center, not after. I still hold to that theory, but with one caveat: Things are happening so fast in the enterprise that simple virtual management is no longer enough. Virtualization must be integrated into the overall enterprise experience -- and that means management has to take a wider view as well.