Virtualization Industry Challenges – Report 2008

The result of analysis performed on customers needs, technology adoption rate and market landscape, recognizes ten major challenges in today’s virtualization adoption.

They are divided by:

1. Support

Support is top issue in virtualization adoption.

As of today, there are a large number of major ISVs that are not recognizing virtualization at all, or are just supporting it partially, severely limiting technology’s widespread.

This depends on at least three different reasons: technical limitations (ex: virtual machines cannot expose special physical hardware), marketing strategies (ex: decision to support only a specific set of hardware+software) or political strategies (ex: decision to support only a specific virtualization approach/platform).

Vendors offering virtualization platforms are required to provide an extensive list of independent software vendors (ISVs) supporting their products inside a virtual machine, an OS partition or a virtual application container.

Customers adopting virtualization platforms are required to verify ISVs support policy is extended to virtualization infrastructures not only for test/development scenarios, but also for production scenarios.

2. Licensing

Licensing is the second most important issue in virtualization adoption.

Today there is a limited number of independent software vendors (ISVs) who are adjusting their licensing model to fit virtualization environments.

In the case of Hardware Virtualization and OS Virtualization approaches, ISVs are required to recognize a virtual machine or an OS partition doesn’t expose all physical CPUs available at the host level, but just a limited amount of them. At the same time ISVs are required to recognize a turned off virtual machine or OS partition is not permitting use of their software.

In the case of Application Virtualization approach, ISVs are required to recognize a virtualized and streamed application that is not persistent on the operating system.

Additionally, vendors implementing invasive licensing check methods, like Microsoft Windows Product Activation (WPA), are required to adapt their systems to not vanish or limit virtualization benefits, like capability to easily modify virtual hardware or to perform virtual machines live migration.

3. Capacity Planning

Capacity planning is the third and last issue any customer embracing virtualization may have to face immediately.

In any computing infrastructure, the right sizing of hosting hardware is a mandatory requirement to grant reliable and efficient services. But in virtual infrastructures deciding the right size of the virtualization host is much harder than usual, because of virtualization software overhead and its limitations in hosting virtual machines.

Virtualization vendors are required to clearly state Virtual Machines per Core (VM/core) ratio that their solutions can achieve, and physical resouces overhead their solutions generate.

Besides that, in virtual infrastructures a new factor becomes critical to grant a successful implementation and satisfactory performances: correct workloads placement in every single virtualization host.

A wrong placement of virtual machines and their workloads usually leads to waste of physical resources, performances bottlenecks and in some cases failure of virtualization projects.

Identifying the right placement for existing, planned and unplanned virtual machines is a complex task which requires continuous assessments and adjustments. These adjustments are also impacted by virtual machines mobility and live migrations capabilities of virtualization platforms.

Virtualization vendors and independent software developers (ISVs) are required to develop a new class of tools that are capable to identify workloads, to recognize the best arrangement for each virtual machine and to suggest (or to automate) steps for optimized configurations.

Vendors working in this area

4. Reliability recognizes virtual infrastructures reliability as the first issue after virtual machines deployment.

Despite capability to arrange clustering or fail-over configurations between virtual machines, they still rely on a single piece of hardware. To grant the services’ highest availability it is mandatory to implement cluster or fail-over solutions at host level.

At the same time virtual machines still require daily backup and restore operations like physical machines, which can be performed at different levels: at the guest level, installing a traditional backup agent inside each virtual machine, at the host level, installing a single backup agent on the host operating system or the hypervisor, or at the storage level, leveraging existing SANs backup solutions on LUNs dedicated to virtual infrastructures.

Clustering, fail-overing and traditional backup (guest level agent) approaches don’t work properly when applied to virtual platforms, because virtual machines are considered like open files, locked by operating systems or hypervisors subsystems to grant integrity, and then requiring special accesses.

Customers are required to not use traditional reliability tools mentioned above, even if proven successful, since no vendor is currently supporting such configurations.

Independent software vendors (ISVs), independent hardware vendors (IHVs) and virtualization vendors are required to integrate and support new and existing high availability solutions in virtual infrastructures. At the same time ISVs are required to support scenarios where their products are hosted inside virtual machines, which are backed up at host level.

Vendors working in this area

5. Provisioning

Workload provisioning is recognized as a near-term challenge in mid and large-size virtual infrastructures.

Nature of virtual machines, OS partitions and virtual application implies an unprecedented simplification of workload deployment. This simplification anyway, added to more friendly operating systems licenses (eg.: a single Microsoft Window Server 2003 Datacenter Edition allows unlimited virtual OS instances at no additional cost), usually leads to an uncontrolled sprawl of virtual machines inside most virtual infrastructures.

At the same time the nature of virtual instances makes it hard to recognize impact on physical resources availability and usage at deployment time.

Last but not least, ease and speed in virtual machines deployment and customization leads to an exponential growth in demand from end users, hard to be addressed in a controlled and efficient way by IT staff.

Virtualization vendors and independent software vendors (ISVs) are required to develop a new class of provisioning tools, able to deploy new virtual machines in rational ways, considering physical resources availability, existing workloads arrangement, licensing pools availability, and other factors. At the same time these new class of solutions must provide a simplified interaction between end users, IT managers and virtual infrastructures, offering deployment flow control and granular permission systems.

Vendors working in this area

6. Efficiency

Capability to track and troubleshoot performances is recognized as a near-term issue.

In virtual infrastructures many more factors impact on the environment efficiency than on traditional infrastructures, making harder identification and solution of bottlenecks.

Performances can be influenced by wrong workloads placement (look at Capacity Planning challenge), by problems at the host level and by problems at the guest level. Identifying and isolating these factors is so complex that today customers cannot even count on a commonly agreed benchmarking platform, which is able to perform reliable measurements in a not-bottlenecked virtual environment.

Virtualization vendors are required to provide a new class of tools to recognize new relationships between elements in virtual infrastructures, simplifying bottlenecks pinpoint and resolution.

Besides that, all virtualization approaches are high demanding in terms of resource consumption (network bandwidth in particular).

Virtualization vendors, independent software vendors (ISVs) and independent hardware vendors (IHVs) are required to develop more efficient protocols for virtualization specific tasks (ex: virtual machines live migration, virtual application streaming, etc.) and to support high performance equipment (ex: TCP/IP Offload Engine network cards).

Vendors working in this area

7. Scalability

Scalability is recognized as the first mid-term challenge for virtualization adopters.

Virtual infrastructure nature implies a growing amount of virtual machines hosted on the same physical server. This number is expected to grow exponentially as soon as the next generation of multi-core CPUs will be available.

But while number of cores per processor increases, other physical resources in each virtualization host are not expected to grow at same pace. Limited availability of memory and network bandwidth can severely reduce scalability of any virtual infrastructure.

Beside that each new virtual machine introduces redundant software components, like anti-virus or back agents, identical patches for each guest operating system, etc., which further extending demand for physical resources.

Independent software vendors (ISVs) and virtualization vendors are required to deliver and support new tools and techniques for delivering features common in all virtual machines at the host level instead of the guest level.

Independent hardware vendors (IHVs) and virtualization vendors are required to deliver and support new equipment able to handle new memory and network workloads.

Vendors working in this area

8. Security

Security is one of the last aspects customers look at after deployment.

In virtualization infrastructures this challenge can be approached from two differents point of view: virtual machines / OS partitions security and virtualization platform security.

Virtual machines / OS partitions security can be provided in traditional ways, deploying security software inside the guest OS itself (anti-virus, personal firewalls, host intrusion detection systems, endpoint security agents, etc.) or in a dedicated virtual machine (enterprise firewalls, intrusion detection systems, anti-spam mail gateways, endpoint policy servers, etc.).

This approach doesn’t make the most out of virtualization, not improving security check efficiency and negatively impacting scalability (every virtual machine requires its own security agents). For this reason independent software vendors (ISVs) and virtualization vendors are required to cooperate in deploying a new generation of security tools at host level, as part of virtualization platform capabilities.

Beside this, virtualization vendors are required to clarify security threats for virtualization platforms, and implement efficient patch management systems immediately.

In fact as of today, virtualization technologies are not widespread enough to seriously attract hacking communities or record bugs casual discoveries. This implies security strengths of the virtualization platform has still to be proven.

Customers are required to not assume virtualization platforms are safe just because the amounts of security vulnerabilities about them are limited or non-existent.

Vendors working in this area

9. Accountability

Accountability is recognized as farthest challenge for virtualization adopters, possibly impacting just enterprise customers.

Virtualization approaches completely change physical hardware usage and value, making useless existing tools for tracking asset utilization.

Capability to host on a single piece of equipment several virtual machines or OS partitions, assigned to different corporate departments, implies a complex analysis of physical resources assignment and usage. At the same time enhanced capabilities offered by virtualization platforms (ex: virtual machines live migration), severely limit capability to evaluate this usage at the host level.

Virtualization vendors and independent software vendors (ISVs) are required to develop a new class of asset management solutions, able to track and report physical resources utilization in a meaningful way.

Vendors working in this area

10. Responsibility identifies Responsibility as a special challenge for any customer embracing virtualization, appearing at different ages of projects depending on size, corporate culture and staff capabilities of each company.

In today’s virtual infrastructure IT managers have no more precise bounds for their knowledge: each one has to be able to perform different tasks at network, storage, security, systems and application level.

In such a scenario, people in charge of previously defined roles like database administrator, security manager, network administrator, etc., are set with conflicts, trying to preserve their influence over decision makers and capability to perform.

Customers are required to quickly reconsider their administrative model to avoid staff conflicts and productivity loss.

Virtualization vendors and independent software vendors (ISVs) are required to improve existing virtualization platforms or to develop a new class of tool to provide granular roles’ segmentation.