Virtualization: Common Challenges and Solutions

Moving to a virtualized environment means turning one server into a host for a group of servers that all share the same resources. Virtualization eliminates costs for IT rooms, cables, and hardware while providing businesses with many benefits including cost savings, improved efficiency, less downtime, and scalability. 

Companies may decide to virtualize their network if:

  • There’s a heavy use of technology
  • Additional office space is needed
  • The number of employees warrants a move, and 
  • The cost analysis shows a positive return on investment 

Even though virtualization provides cost savings over networks stored at a physical location, there is an expense for the initial transition and setup. Also, moving to a virtualized environment doesn’t come without challenges. It’s essential to understand the difficulties with virtualization and how to overcome them.

VM Sprawl

Challenge: Virtualization sprawl happens when it’s impossible to effectively control and manage all virtual machines (VMs) connected to a network. This often occurs when different departments within a business set up a virtualized instance, and the growing network becomes more than someone can manage. 

Solution: To prevent virtualization sprawl, first, take an audit of the virtualized machines connected to the network. Then, you’ll want to identify VMs that are no longer being used and need to be archived. From there, implement policies that address thin provisioning so that the amount of resources used is much smaller than allocated. You’ll also want to evaluate the naming convention — typically, what may have worked initially will need to be updated. While this may seem like there are a lot of steps involved, the good news is a Managed IT Service provider (MSP) can assist with the clean up and management of VM sprawl to not only optimize the virtualized system, but to also improve the overall performance and speed of a network.

Application Performance

Challenge: Once a business has migrated to a virtualized system, they may find that things are not working as seamlessly as they should. Legacy systems may cause problems with newer virtualized software and programs, older software may not be compatible with virtualization, or current applications may not be performing… even with virtualization. 

Solution: A solution will depend on several factors, including the VM setup and whether there’s legacy software or updated software. Run tests to identify any resources being overutilized or work with an MSP to look for compatibility issues between software and VM. Typically, MSPs will be able to locate and pinpoint areas more quickly than someone on an internal IT team who isn’t familiar with these type of system conflicts. There may be upgrades or workarounds to get everything functioning as it should.

Bottlenecks

Challenge: When users create a high demand on VM resources, bottlenecks will happen. There are various reasons that bottlenecks occur. One of the most common causes is the incorrect configuration of network resources, however, bottlenecks also stem from processing limits, memory deficiencies and storage space issues. In a virtualized environment, these factors interconnect, so changes have a broader impact. Identifying where the bottleneck is occurring and implementing a fix can become very complicated. 

Solution: Resolving a bottleneck depends on the exact cause. Incorrect network configurations are often the primary reason for bottlenecks. The reason for this is because there are many different areas involved in the setup of network configurations, and as a result there are many steps to troubleshoot a specific area as well as many solutions — which is why an MSP is critical to overseeing proper network configuration. 

If the system slows down because of the processor, there are two solutions which can help. First, you can allocate processing cores to increase the processing power; or, you can also overlock existing cores… If a VM uses too much memory, set a fixed memory cache limit, or ensure that the VM is using the right amount of memory to maintain optimum performance when using resources. If storage is causing the bottleneck, consider spreading data storage across separate drives.

Licensing Compliance

Challenge: Running licensed software on VMs can create compliance issues, but many software license agreements have now incorporated VMs, multiple CPUs and other resource provisioning tools. 

Solution: Always review and understand the licensing rules for software and business applications. In most situations, each use of an application on a VM requires a license.

There are challenges associated with virtualizing a network environment and solutions for overcoming them. If your internal IT team isn’t equipped or skilled enough to manage a virtualized network, an MSP can help make sure the VM is correctly configured and managed.

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