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Stop Virtual Server Sprawl

Virtual Machines

The wasteful phenomenon commonly known as server sprawl sprung up in the days when almost every application had its own server. The one-to-one ratio was a simple solution that ensured satisfactory response time and gave IT leaders peace of mind. Unfortunately, like a restaurant hiring a waiter for every table at a restaurant, it’s also exorbitantly costly.

A McKinsey & Co. study (bit.ly/2ulij8B) showed that businesses rarely utilize more than 6 percent of server capacity. And though 30 percent of servers are completely comatose, while plugged in, they waste electricity, space and labor for administration. Sadly, these forgotten servers add no value. And when you layer mergers and acquisitions on top of the existing server overpopulation, the problem multiplies.

Virtualization to the Rescue

Virtualization appeared to be the long-sought remedy. Dividing one server into numerous virtual environments blurs the physical boundaries and distributes the jobs to underutilized servers.

Because moving physical servers to virtual machines (VMs) decreases the number of servers required in a data center, virtualization can reduce capital expenses for hardware. It can also substantially impact energy bills—a significant benefit, as powering and cooling costs account for nearly 12 percent of data center expenditures, according to a Gartner report (gtnr.it/1BdC2XQ). Finally, because it centralizes resource management, virtualization simplifies server administration and responding to business demands, positively impacting other operational costs.

The VM Explosion

A decade ago, before virtualization became popular, it took days or weeks to buy and install new equipment. Now, IT staff can set up VMs using virtualization management software by simply clicking a button to create the machine and following a software wizard step by step.

The popularity of virtual environments and ease with which they can be propagated, however, opened the door to a new set of problems. The number of VMs has exploded far beyond reason, flying in the face of one of the primary goals of virtualization: to efficiently use resources. Today, server sprawl has morphed into VM sprawl.

VMs don’t have high capital costs for hardware and software, but their operational expenditures take a chunk out of IT budgets and bottom lines. These include hardware maintenance, software licensing, general administration and power consumption. Because of these associated costs, virtualization gone wild can rapidly eat up savings from server consolidation. Also, even if VMs are powered off, outlays continue for many of these items, such as administration and licensing.

Chris Churchey is co-founder and principal of Galileo, a division of ATS Group LLC.

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