Venture into virtualization with caution

Virtualization is helping network managers solve a good number of problems that had become major drains on time and monetary resources. For one, the concept of having multiple servers stored in the same amount of physical space that previously held only one has allowed managers to shelve their search for more real estate to hold their growing number of boxes.

Also, virtualization has helped in answering the call for greener technology implementations, thus aiding corporate efforts to position a company as a forward-thinking entity — and saving a fair bit in electrical costs to boot.

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Check out our archive of virtualization stories in our Enterprise Architecture Knowledge Centre.

Like most things of value, however, virtualization comes at a price — actually, a few prices, ones that some system administrators are beginning to realize in full force.

For one, the very convenience of virtualization and its increasing popularity has allowed its offspring to multiply faster than two rabbits in spring. Realizing the benefits that a virtualized environment can bring to their corners of the corporation, coders, quality assurance people and others are setting up servers of the “v” variety on their own, outside the purview of IT. This ad hoc adding-on has the potential to quickly create an asset management nightmare.

Over time, if the assets contained on these additional servers aren’t meticulously tracked and maintained by IT staffers, a company will find themselves back in the quagmire of lost data that they thought they were getting out of by going the virtualized route.

It’s of paramount importance that IT leaders faced with this situation utilize software tools that can automatically track any new virtual additions to the network, such as VMware’s VirtualCenter or Virtual Essentials from startup Fortisphere.

It’s also advisable to take the time to put in place a clear set of policies around who can and cannot add virtual boxes to the network, and to follow up by presenting it to those groups who may be itching to add on.

Also, with each additional virtual machine added to the network, the security risk multiplies by an equal factor. That’s because virtual boxes require the same amount of safeguards and protection as their traditional brethren. Thinking that the information held within them is safer because of their virtual nature will more often than not lead to a breach across a far wider set of data.

And without an ability to track what has been deployed across an infrastructure, the task of carrying out patching and other routine maintenance chores becomes that much more arduous. In many cases, these tasks simply won’t be carried out properly, leaving countless machines vulnerable to attack.

Shops that already have effective security and server management policies in place stand to be the most successful in dealing with the new challenges that virtualized environments present. It’s important for smaller and midsize firms with overtaxed and overstretched IT staffs to not get swept away by virtualization’s obvious appeal and neglect the mundane but essential task of managing it all. All firms will have to do so sooner or later; better to tackle it before any form of disaster besets the organization.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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