When thinking about their 2011 IT initiatives, many firms I've spoken with are continuing to build out their virtual server environments. My colleague Gene Leganza has written an excellent report entitled The Top 15 Technology Trends EAs Should Watch that includes system management as a driver of continued virtualization. In addition, it is now becoming apparent that public and private cloud computing architectures are becoming more and more intertwined due to the intersection of virtualization platforms and management tools. From a technology standpoint, I believe that management is one of the key enablers of virtualized and cloud infrastructure. Therefore, as you're making your 2011 plans and virtualization or cloud computing inevitably pops up, think about how the following system management capabilities will influence your strategy:

  1. Integration of public and private cloud management. Management tools for managing virtualization platforms will integrate with cloud services. In the beginning it will be about monitoring or provisioning. Later on, your system management infrastructure will orchestrate the movement between internal and external resource pools.
  2. Capacity planning and optimization. Most firms we speak with don't take a very mathematical approach to determining how much physical capacity is required to power all their virtualized systems. This leads to the same sort of overprovisioning that created all this waste in the first place. That's one big reason the average ratio of virtual to physical machines at many firms is down around 10 to 1. You'll never come close to cloud computing levels of efficiency at that rate. Capacity planning and optimization tools will calculate just how much public or private infrastructure you need to run your apps and how best to arrange the VMs for maximum efficiency.
  3. Streamlining ongoing management of servers. One of the biggest barriers to scaling up virtualization is the ongoing management of virtual machines. Why is this important? If you manage a server the same way you always have, then the ongoing costs of maintaining a virtualized server will be the same as they always have been. In addition to standardizing images and other process-related things, you should be automating configuration management. Also, think about whether you can move to an image-based approach as we describe in this report on the future of configuration management.
  4. Real-time automation of workload management. As server hardware becomes more powerful (for example, the newest blades with 1 TB of memory), we'll naturally want to increase our VM density to achieve a lower cost per VM. The result is that individual servers will be increasingly critical to application availability. This translates to a need for real-time automation and performance management that can instantly respond to performance issues or failures by moving application services to another system. Many firms use live migration features in their server virtualization platform — but these must be linked with more-accurate indicators of end user experience, like synthetic transactions from an application performance management tool.
  5. Management of virtualized I/O. What do the the unified or converged infrastructure from HP, VCE (VMware/Cisco/EMC), IBM, and Egenera have in common? Virtualized I/O — usually in the form of 10 Gb converged Ethernet. Aside from benefits like reducing cabling and switch ports, I think the most interesting aspect of virtualized I/O is the ability of a physical server's personality to be moved to any other server in the data center. In addition to the underlying network technology, the thing that makes this possible is integrated management of the server and data center fabric. In most cases, this won't be a stand-alone product that you acquire (though you can build your own solution from InfiniBand and PCI Express products on the market). This capability will most likely be an integrated part of whatever server and network environments you select, but now is the time to begin planning how you'll tie it in with the rest of your system management environment.