Top three Environmental Issues

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Virtualization is a mature technology but if you don’t have a virtualization wizard on staff managing the environment can be a challenge. Benefits such as flexibility, scalability and cost savings can quickly give way to security risks, resource waste and infrastructure performance degradation, so it is as important to understand common virtual environment problems and how to solve them.

The issues tend to fall into three main areas: virtual machine (VM) sprawl, capacity planning and change management. Here’s a deeper look at the problems and what you can do to address them:

* VM Sprawl. Anyone who has been involved in virtualization administration is likely no stranger to VM sprawl—the unchecked growth of virtual machines in a virtual environment. While sprawl can result from the unplanned creation of VMs, it’s also frequently attributed to rogue virtual machines, which are VMs that should have followed a very specific deployment lifecycle, but ultimately were lost in the daily IT operations rather than properly retired.

This problem largely stems from the ability to automate the creation and provisioning of VMs, and by doing so it has become much more difficult for administrators to keep track of every VM in the context of day-to-day management. This is especially true in the case of large enterprises where administrators are responsible for monitoring extensive virtual environments with hundreds to thousands of VMs spread across clusters, data centers and even geographic locations. To make matters worse, sprawl typically happens over time, making it difficult to recognize it as it occurs.

Unresolved, VM sprawl can cost an organization time, money and resources, not to mention lead to security breaches and compliance concerns with old, unpatched VMs sitting ripe for attack. However, it is possible to get a grip on sprawl. Here are some tips to address sprawl:

  • Create a formal process for requesting and approving VMs.
  • Document the lifecycle plan for each VM with details that include the who, what, why, when and where.
  • Monitor VM resource utilization and establish baseline utilization trend lines to identify abandoned or inactive VMs. This can also help identify potential security anomalies.
  • Control access based on roles.
  • Simplify these tasks through the use of a virtualization management tool.

Even with these measures in place, however, given the current threat landscape it’s better to be safe than sorry. Thus, administrators can fortify their virtual environments specifically against the security risks of VM sprawl by following these additional best practices:

  • Segregate access to your virtual environment resources via role-based access control.
  • Log and monitor VM-to-VM traffic. Regularly check traffic for anomalies in the logs.
  • Lockdown and monitor the VM file folders. This goes a long way in preventing a root kit hack, in which case a hacker would gain control of the root of a specific system and make changes to allow transmission interceptions, among other things, within your environment.

* Capacity planning and right-sizing. Capacity planning in virtual environments is the proper allocation of resources to a VM to meet application quality-of-service (QoS) requirements while not overcommitting resources. This is critical because if VMs are not properly sized the entire value proposition of virtualization—making the most efficient use of resources—can be undermined, reducing the return on investment (ROI).

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