The worldwide x86 server-virtualization market reached $5.6 billion last year, per Gartner, representing a 5.7% increase over 2015. Michael Warrilow, research director at Gartner, said, “The market has matured rapidly over the last few years, with many organizations having server-virtualization rates that exceed 75%.”
For IT professionals, the growth in virtual machines (VMs) is no surprise, considering the myriad benefits they offer, including lower hardware costs, reduced server-provisioning time, disaster-recovery improvements, reduced maintenance/upgrade expenses and shorter application rollouts. And unlike the early days of virtualization, where the benefits were reserved for large enterprises that had dozens of servers residing in large data centers, virtualization is now a viable option for SMBs.
When Managing the Virtual Is Harder Than the Physical
One of the greatest benefits of a virtualized infrastructure is also one of its greatest challenges. The infrastructure makes it easier to move provisioning down to a wider IT community in which more individuals can set up a new server in a matter of minutes, compared with the days or weeks it takes with physical servers.
But the challenge of moving between physical servers (e.g., for routine maintenance such as upgrading hardware and load balancing) is configuring the network and storage services that are scattered in the server and then in the components of the infrastructure. As VMs move across subnets, they can complicate the task of tracking where resources are located and who has access to them. IT-solution providers must make sure the network teams have visibility into the movement of applications and servers, and network managers must develop more-effective ways of tracking the location of applications than they required with physical servers.
Two Legacy Options for Moving VMs
Several solutions have been developed to automate the configuration of VM migrations, and IT professionals can choose from a variety of approaches. One popular approach is to use a tool such as VMware Converter to export a virtual machine, sometimes requiring a proxy system, then reimport the VM to the destination host. The problem with this approach is that the added copying step eats up hours of time.
Another common approach is to use a tool such as VMware vMotion or a third-party VM-migration tool. The problem with vMotion, however, is that it only comes with vSphere Enterprise and Enterprise Plus licenses, and purchasing the software requires navigating a tricky and expensive licensing process.
Although several other less expensive third-party migration tools are on the market, many of them require one or more compromises, such as the following:
- Limitations on source and host compatibility
- Limited availability of destination resources
- Hardware-compatibility issues
- Lengthy manual operations on the target machine to get the VM up and running
- Support for only Windows-based guest operating systems
How Next-Generation VM-Migration Tools Make All the Difference
Savvy software developers have recognized the challenges of moving VMs, and big progress has been made recently in breaking through the barriers that previously plagued the virtualization industry. These next-generation VM-migration tools take a different approach than their predecessors, and they offer the following benefits:
- Device and platform agnostic. The best VM-migration tools eliminate the incompatibility problems of the past, and they can back up and move VMs regardless of whether the source and target hardware platforms are different.
- Cloning. Unlike some copying tools, cloning gives users the ability to capture the entire snapshot tree, along with connected external devices and ISO images.
- Full encapsulation. With full encapsulation of the target VM (including the VM’s current state, all available snapshots and all connected external devices), backing up and managing a single file becomes much easier.
- Efficiency. Next-generation VM copy tools include the ability to deploy multiple VMs from one ESX(i) host or vCenter to another.
- Light footprint. Bandwidth-compression capabilities allow next-generation VM-migration tools to minimize network traffic and storage requirements.
- Security assurance. Compared with the difficulty of stealing a physical server from a data center, anyone who gains access to the network can easily steal a VM. The latest VM-migration tools prevent unauthorized access to VM files by exporting those files as a set of data containers identified by GUID (global unique identifier) file names.
- Inexpensive. Despite the rich features and functions available with next-generation VM-migration tools, these tools don’t have to be expensive.
Virtualization technology is taking IT networking to the next level for companies of all sizes. When moving VMs, however, don’t use tools with outdated and limited capabilities that shortchange the efficiency gains that virtualization offers—especially now that tools available that don’t require any compromises.
About the Author
Jim Thomas is Director of Technical Services for Paragon Software Group Corp., a provider of disaster-recovery and backup-software solutions for small business and mid-market enterprises. Based in Irvine, California, the company offers embedded file-system driver technologies used by large manufacturers of consumer devices including Asus, Belkin, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Netgear, Seagate, Western Digital and many others.