VM Stall – More Than Four Reasons


More than four reasons count towards VM stall

I recently saw a great article in IT World Canada titled “Virtual stall: What it is and why you have it,” written by Jay Litkey, that took up my idea of VM stall, which I first came up with in my blog from May Is “VM Stall” the Next Big Virtualization Challenge?‘.

Though they barely acknowledge my blog as their inspiration (and as a competitor to CA Technologies – my employer – why would they?), it seems Jay and his team have wholeheartedly taken up my concern with VM stall, and not just in the IT World Canada article. Marketing lead David Lynch was quoted on the topic in a post by Bruce Hoard of Virtualization Review, and in a recent Tech Target article on ‘ISV stall’. Several posts on their corporate blog also address the issue as if it was their own baby.

In my past life at EMA, I have spoken with both Jay and David a number of times, and had a lot of time for what they were doing in the management space. For a small startup with limited resources, it is great that they can take the time to pick up my idea and run with it.

The IT World Canada article is really worthwhile, because it zeroes in on some important concepts. It helps to expand the thought around VM stall, and specifically on a couple of additional causes, as it notes:

Virtual stall has four main causes:

  • Scalability issues:  A single IT team often finds it difficult to scale beyond the 25-30 per cent penetration range. This is due to the combination of lack of automation and reporting in virtualization management tools, creating time-consuming manual processes that are a particular problem when there is a lack of experienced and trained staff.
  • Management issues: The data centre is not a place that can be managed manually; there are too many elements to be checked, and too many independencies [sic]. And, while there are levels of automation built into the virtualization platform, they can be difficult to define and implement. The lack of automated monitoring, alerting and control becomes more and more of a problem as the overall level of virtualization in the data centre increases.
  • Process issues:  Enterprise virtualization impacts a wide range of existing data centre processes, all of which need to be modified, replaced, or augmented. As long as the virtual environments are small and self-contained, these processes can be manipulated or ignored. But as the environment grows, it reaches a point when they have to be dealt with before real efficiencies can be reached. The more “process-mature” an organization is, the more quickly this point is reached.
  • Co-ordination issues: Virtualization crosses multiple silos and ultimately requires a level of co-operation and integration that is impossible to achieve with the traditional silo management structure. In addition, the first workloads to be virtualized tend to be less critical ones.  However, as environments grow, higher-risk, higher-impact services are virtualized. These tend to have more stakeholders, more politics, more distributed infrastructures, and a greater cost of failure and downtime. Consequently, they require more coordination.

This is great insight, and offers a number of important causes. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to say there are just “four main causes.” Not to pick on Jay, as it is probably just unfortunate phrasing, but I think it is important to see that the issues of VM stall are much more varied, complex, and numerous.

I am not entirely without fault either. To start with, when I first identified the issue of VM stall in my blog post back in May, I said that “I see many possible causes for VM stall,” but like Jay I only identified four examples. As Jay recounts in his analysis, I saw scalability and manageability as key issues; but unlike Jay, I chose to highlight risk aversion and resourcing as two more of my examples.

However, even these six are just a part of the problem. As I said when I spoke with my great mate (and one of the industry’s great virtualization gurus, observers, and commentators), David Marshall of Hyper9 and InfoWorld in his article, VM stall: Breaking through the second phase of virtualization:

“… many organizations strike a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges that slows their virtualization rollout, or stops it entirely. Some causes at this stage include greater complexity of services and applications, higher demand on scarce virtualization skills, limited visibility into a growing deployment, increasingly heterogeneous systems, and greater resistance from risk-averse application owners and recalcitrant application vendors.”

In the same article, David spoke with Dave Bartoletti, formerly of automation vendor Enigmatec and now a leading light showing the way through the virtualization darkness with research and advisory analyst firm, the Taneja Group:

“The second wave of issues is always harder when a core technology matures. Server virtualization essentially paid for itself in CAPEX savings, but when we virtualize Tier 1 business-critical applications, or user desktops, CAPEX savings take a backseat to application performance and IT efficiency, and this is why we’re stalling.”

My former editor at Tech Target and another keen virtualization observer, Colin Steele, highlighted another core element of VM stall, in his article “ISV stall makes virtualizing applications a challenge“:

By now, the benefits of virtualizing applications are clear, but the goal of 100% virtualization remains elusive. One reason is that some independent software vendors (ISVs) don’t support their server-based applications — databases, telecom apps, healthcare programs, etc. — on virtual servers.

Moreover, I talk a lot with customers about their real world concerns, so I can quickly pinpoint many other causes. They talk to me about issues like vendor licensing, facilities constraints, capacity blindness, service prioritization, deployment costs, line-of-business resistance, internal politics, a lack of skills, and even senior management resistance.

In fact, last week at CA Expo in Australia, I talked with CA Technologies customers about seven significant issues in virtualization that are contributing to (among other things) VM stall, as you can see from one of the slides from my presentation:

Virtualization is not clear sailing

Virtualization is not clear sailing - from CA Expo Australia

(You can see the whole deck at the CA Expo site)

To be fair to Jay and his team, other posts on his corporate blog agree with me, citing issues like mission-critical apps, management skepticism, bureaucracy, poor project vetting, and more.

I am really glad to see my thoughts around VM stall have captured the imagination of the market. Thanks to Jay for taking this up, and to his team for joining me and CA Technologies in raising awareness of issues causing VM stall.

However, I think we all need to be careful about being categorical about VM stall. It is important to be clear that VM stall – like most enterprise IT issues, and indeed most organizations – is both complex and varied, so trying to categorically define four (or six, or seven, or really any number) of causes for VM stall is underestimating this important problem.

But if we can all contribute new ideas to the community, we will all learn more, and our enterprise customers will benefit from our combined wisdom.