Physical, Virtual, Cloud, Oh My!


So you have your physical infrastructure, your virtual one and now a burgeoning cloud environment to deal with. Can anyone out there say "management nightmare"?

The challenge of server management was bad enough when the biggest threat was server sprawl driving up energy bills. These days, the ease with which users can provision their own virtual or cloud resources makes it not only difficult to maintain clear policies on what is and is not allowed, but throws a wrench into the primary function of the data center infrastructure: to ensure that data can get where it needs to go in a timely fashion.

That's probably why we're seeing a number of moves in management circles to expand system functionality beyond mere server or storage management to encompass a broader data center- or infrastructure-wide mindset.

EMC made another move in this direction earlier this week with the purchase of Configuresoft, a long-time OEM partner that had essentially been contributing the heart of the EMC Server Configuration Manager and Configuration Analytics Manager systems. The company says the acquisition will better enable them to develop technology aimed at server configuration and change management across physical and virtual environments. The purchase is the latest in a string of management acquisitions for EMC, which over the past few years has picked up network management firm Smarts, application discovery specialist nLayers and IT service management company Infra.

Management challenges are fostering more technology partnerships. Dell and Microsoft have teamed up to integrate their respective infrastructure management suites in what will hopefully result in a smoother-running physical/virtual environment. The agreement joins Dell's OpenManagement system with Microsoft's System Center suite to offer an integrated platform that oversees everything from client systems to virtual servers. To make the system palatable to small and mid-sized businesses, the two companies say they will stress low cost and simplicity in both deployment and operation.

But it's not only the big names that hope to tap into the growing management needs of diverse data environments. Smaller vendors are jockeying for position as well. Chatsworth Products Inc., of Westlake Village, Calif., just announced that it has acquired Westborough, Mass.'s Epicenter Inc. in a bid to bring infrastructure management to its line of IT energy optimization products. The idea is to use Epicenter's patented KVM solutions and cross-platform server, storage and network management systems to improve system utilization in conjunction with Chatsworth's CPI Passive Cooling technology to help reduce operating expenses.

New tools and technologies are certainly helpful when it comes to IT management, but it's the policies you adopt that really make the difference. As this article from Computerworld's Jon Brodkin points out, technology can only be as effective as humans allow it to be. That means policies must be clearly established and then rigorously enforced. Unused machines are decommissioned -- period. Resources are made available according to need -- no excuses. If the goal is to automate much of the management side, then it's best to have these usage policies debated among the business units ahead of time, as opposed to struggling with an ever-shifting piecemeal approach.

The good news is that while virtualization and cloud computing do add management challenges, they also provide the kinds of environment in which automated management can be truly effective. Once you've placed resources on these more abstract layers, the shifting and reshifting of resources becomes a software function rather than a physical hardware provisioning process.

But that simplicity can also make it dangerous, which is why the smart money says to put the management stack in place before these new environments become too complex. It's easier to manage as you grow than to force-fit a solution into an existing environment.