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Business Applications in Virtualisation Strategy

By [email protected] - 15th October 2008 - 08:44

Getting Business Applications on board is critical to the success of your virtualisation journey. Enterprises committed to a virtualisation strategy need to ensure that management and provisioning of mission critical business applications as well as IT infrastructure technologies are included in plans. They need to establish procedures allowing them to maximise the benefits of consolidating to a virtualised platform and mitigate potential business risk across a landscape that has become abstract. Failure to do so may impact the success of projects and dilute the value of a virtualisation strategy.
Photo: Alan Smith, Senior Vice-President, UC4 SoftwareSpiralling energy costs, squeezing extra IT power out of fixed data centre real estate footprint and environmental concerns have shifted virtualisation from being a commodity tool to a centre-stage role in the IT strategy of many organisations. The history of virtualisation begins in the 1970s when mainframe computers could be virtually partitioned to host multiple guest machines. It proved an ideal environment in which to install and configure new operating platforms, upgrade existing systems and to allow software developers a sand-box for isolation testing. In its 21st century incarnation, history has repeated itself with virtualisation usually starting life deep within the data centre of most enterprises. IT operations and application development teams rapidly recognised the extra flexibility they could get from not needing to procure extra hardware for software testing or to service ad-hoc processing demands. A shift in planning is required to ensure that all IT layers within an enterprise are fully aligned to perform in a new virtualised landscape. In addition to ensuring that the underlying IT infrastructure components are in place each time a new virtual machine is provisioned, it is imperative that the business applications, operational processes and procedures are established to provide comprehensive services on which end-users can rely. Virtualisation in the dynamic data centreVirtualisation transforms a data centre in to becoming a dynamic IT environment that can provide the flexibility and scalability capable of responding to varying demands.While the ability to add and subtract processing capacity without needing to power up extra hardware offers enterprises greater agility, there are accompanying challenges.As each new server is spawned, the IT Operations team must recognise that there is an extra machine available that requires managing and monitoring. This team assumes responsibility for manually routing workload to this additional resource, continually checking systems performance and being ready to respond to messages and resolve problems. This increase in workload combined with the perennial lack of qualified, skilled personnel places tremendous pressure on IT Operations. Adopting an automated approach would not only reduce operational pressures, but also mitigate business risk by reducing exposure of critical systems and applications to unaccountable manual intervention.In virtualised environments, the fixed relationships between hardware, systems and applications no longer exist. Hard-wired, proscribed associations, ranging from a command sequence in an operations handbook to fixed parameters embedded in a piece of application code, can result in different interpretations when presented in a virtualised world. Virtualisation introduces an extra layer of abstraction between physical hardware devices and the software systems that an enterprise runs to support its business.Real world processing needs managing across virtual machinesAt the IT infrastructure management layer, housekeeping and administrative tasks need to be executed: back-ups, snapshots, DB clean-ups, file transfer handling, starting and stopping of virtual machines. At the business application layer, functional processes and procedures need to be undertaken: sales data uploads, order processing, invoicing, logistics, production, analytics and forecasting, finance and accounting, HR, customer care. The scope of activities required will usually go well beyond the capability of an individual business application or systems management solution. Enterprises need to manage all of the interfaces around their virtual environments. They also need to be able to integrate the real and virtual environments in such a way that they can fully leverage the breadth and the depth of functionality that can be derived from their core applications and operating platforms.Forming logical association, and utilising logical views when managing virtualised systems and applications, allows IT departments to achieve greater flexibility and agility. Creating a centralised set of policy definitions with embedded parameter variables ensures consistency and transparency across all virtualised machines and hypervisors, and reduces maintenance and administration overheads. Establishing the availability of virtual resources, determining current systems performance and analysis of other metrics can be used at run time to optimise routing and dispatching of workload. Process definitions can be dynamically configured using parameter overrides to run in the virtualised infrastructure best suited to ensure end-user SLAs are satisfied.Keeping track on what is happening whereSecuring and administering all process definitions in a centralised repository will support change control management. Critical activities that need to be run on virtual machines are protected against unauthorised updates and illegal use. Being able to maintain a record and report on all changes made to process definitions, as well as details of who execute what, where, when and the outcome, supports enterprises in ensuring that their use of virtualisation does not introduce additional operational risk and is compliant with IT governance strategy. IT operations and application support teams need a business view of what is happening across all systems and access to tools that are not platform or application specific, allowing them to deal with problems as and when they arise.Introducing a layer of abstraction that enables the logical mapping of critical IT processes can provide increased levels of agility and flexibility when automating the execution of workload across virtual machines. Being able to associate logical processes with physical resources dynamically by setting parameter overrides enables greater agility. Creating templates of common processes that can be executed repeatedly, on behalf of multiple business units for instance, allows enterprises to scale their operations without adding significant overheads.Automation can simplify management and control of virtual machinesEnterprises need to realise that embedding knowledge and experience into automated procedures not only simplifies management and control of a virtualised world, but can also ensure smart decisions are taken at the right time in the right context. An automated approach translates to improved throughput, greater accuracy, fewer errors and reduced risk. Putting technology to work by allowing it to analyse resource utilisation and respond instantaneously, provisioning extra resource in a virtualised environment enhances productivity.

Author: Alan Smith

Bio.: Senior Vice President, UC4 Software

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