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Preventing VM Sprawl in the Data Center

stop resized 600One of the problems that virtualization is meant to fix is data center sprawl. Indeed, the process of virtualizing servers will free up plenty of rack space, reduce your overall sever footprint, and have a reducing effect on things like power and cooling. That being said, simply setting up a virtualized environment doesn’t mean you’re doing things as efficiently as possible. There is another type of sprawl you need to look out for now: VM sprawl.

VM sprawl is exactly what it sounds like. You have too many virtual machines sprawled out across your virtual infrastructure. These machines claim their own resources, such as power, CPU and storage, even when they’re not used frequently. It’s easy to set up a new VM, and so your users will get to the point where they expect a new machine on an on-demand basis.

To be sure, that’s not a bad thing. Virtualization is supposed to, and in most cases does, help IT provide higher service levels to business users. But when you have more and more VMs in the data center, your need for resources – especially staffing – grows.

There are a few ways you can prevent VM sprawl in the data center. Ultimately, what methods work best for you will be determined by your corporate culture, your budget, and your resources. Some approaches that have been used in the past include:

•    Chargebacks. Turning IT into a cost center is a practice that works fine in some companies but that just isn’t realistic in other corporate cultures. If you are in a position to issue chargebacks, you need to be clear with your user base about the cost of specific VMs. This will, ultimately, let you identify VMs that can be turned off altogether, and it will eliminate certain VM requests.

•    Metering. Metering is a way to recognize the finite resources at your disposal and then be able to dish them out based on business needs. In this configuration, business priorities rather than simple user demand drive the creation of VMs. The downside to metering, as with chargebacks, is that they create a series of artificial barriers to your users.

•    Offerring alternative functionality to developers. Depending on your environment, you may be able to stave off VM sprawl simply by having some conversations with your developer base. This works best in a relatively small environment; by the time you hit 1,500 VMs or more, it’s probably not very realistic.

•    Educating the user base. In many cases, users aren’t aware of what a VM really costs. Educating your users about the real costs of VMs can, in many cases, reduce the demand for new VMs.


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Unitiv, Inc., is a professional provider of enterprise IT solutions. Unitiv delivers its services from its headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia, USA, and its regional office in Iselin, New Jersey, USA. Unitiv provides a strategic approach to its service delivery, focusing on three core components: People, Products, and Processes. The People to advise and support customers. The Products to design and build solutions. The Processes to govern and manage post-implementation operations.