Getting Serious About Virtual Sprawl


This is the time of year when we in the trade press get inundated with predictions for the coming year. Cloud computing, solid-state disks and desktop virtualization are on everybody's list at the moment.


I'm going to make a prediction of my own, but it's not about the latest and greatest technology coming off the drawing board. I predict that 2009 will be the year that many of you will have to get serious about managing virtual server sprawl.


Now, to be fair, I'm not the only one making this prediction. A rising chorus of IT experts is starting to sound the alarm as virtualization penetrates deeper and deeper into the data center. The Register, for one, correctly points out that virtual sprawl is likely to be many multiple times worse than physical sprawl, which is ironic considering the first sales pitch for virtualization was that it would help you limit the number of servers in your data center.


Billy Marshall, chief strategy officer at management firm rPath, goes a step further to claim that organizations are facing a "virtual machine tsunami" as data centers transition their primary boot options from traditional operating systems to hypervisors. Couple that with the fact that many businesses units are finding they can get unlimited capacity on demand from cloud platforms like EC2 and you have a recipe for exploding VM deployments.


Of course, there is a plethora of virtual management tools aimed at combating the problem, but as Cameron Sturdevant, eWeek Labs' technical director, points out, most simply do not have the cross-platform capabilities to be truly effective. This is a serious flaw considering the vast majority of enterprises will invariably find themselves in multi-platform environments as virtualization spreads across server, storage, network and desktop environments.


Then again, you could simply avoid sprawl altogether by moving everything to the cloud, says Scott Roza, CEO of virtual lab provider Skytap. Particularly from an application development perspective, clouds provide a ready-made configuration library to deploy and track virtual machines, all the while eliminating infrastructure restraints in general.


Fortunately for many of you, virtualization has not penetrated your enterprise to the extent that sprawl has become a critical issue. But the technology tends to have a snowball effect once users get used to launching VMs at the drop of a hat. A solid provisioning and lifecycle policy regime should be one of the first things you set up as you go virtual, not the last.