Virtualization and Fear of the Great Unknown


The death of Henry Gustav Molaison is one of the most compelling reminders in recent memory of the sometimes huge impact of unintended consequences. Molaison lost much of his memory in 1953 after small pieces of his brain were removed to relieve seizures. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin then worked closely with him for decades, producing reams of research on learning and memory.


Would Molaison's life have been better if he hadn't had the surgery? There's no easy answer to this question. The surgery altered his life in ways no one predicted, but doing nothing may well have resulted in a worse outcome.


I thought of Molaison after reading this Forbes column forwarded to me by a colleague. The author, Dan Woods, raises some interesting questions about virtualization. Essentially, he contends, virtualization makes it next-to-impossible for CIOs to keep a tab on data center assets. So while lots of CIOs are interested in the cost-savings potential of virtualization in these tough economic times, they should school themselves on its larger management repercussions.


While it's tough to create an insecure virtual machine in the cloud (thanks to vendors' vigilance and ultimate control), says Woods, the same isn't true in the data center. He writes:

The whole reason for virtualization is flexibility and efficiency. In a virtualized environment, it's easier to create resources as needed. Frequently, users themselves make requests and set up new resources automatically. If these resources are not standardized -- and inside data centers they seldom are -- then how does a CIO know that they are configured correctly and that they are secure and safe?

It's also tough to take a truly proactive approach to this problem, notes Woods. So vendors are rolling out systems management software that will monitor virtualized environments for possible problems and alert IT staffs when it detects them.


IT Business Edge blogger Art Cole reaches some similar conclusions in a recent blog post. In the more dynamic IT infrastructure of the near future, admins and CIOs will rely on automation and "connectivity intelligence," not old-fashioned flow charts, to maintain control of data centers. In another recent post, Cole gives CIOs a fine starting point for further research by encapsulating the virtualization strategies of several vendors including Microsoft, HP and VMware.