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Virtualization Management Tools: Part 2

Created: 05 Oct 2011 • Updated: 22 Dec 2011
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Virtualization management tools are important. In part one of this series we reviewed some of the basic features of proper virtualization management tools as well as how a lack of said tools could make managing a fleet of virtual servers as labor intensive as an equal number of physical systems. In this post, we'll explore some of the more advanced features of management tools, and how their implementation saves you significant time.

First, let's look at Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). VDI is an umbrella term for a collection of technologies whose purpose is to provide centrally-located desktop environments to remote users. These users can be using virtually any device, while the processing and storage requirements are handled entirely by the VDI server. Though VDI can be delivered in many ways, the most common option is to virtualise a client operating system and provide to the end user through a common protocol such as RDP. In a world without proper virtualization management tools, each virtual desktop would have to be a completely independent Virtual Machine. Every VM would have to be patched independently, and moving VMs from host to host would have to be done one at a time. Given that personal VMs are generally 30-50GB, moving even a small number of these VMs around is a significant bandwidth consideration.

Compare this to the capabilities presented by modern VDI backed with full-blown management tools. In this scenario dozens or even hundreds of identical virtual machines can be spawned from a single master image. When updates are required, only the master image is updated and all descendant VMs are restarted. When they come back up, they are all updated, as they are all virtual copies of the same master image. Each of these VMs takes part in a "pool," and as the VMs are identical, it doesn't matter which one a user connects to. If one server happens to fail, users can reconnect to a new VM on another server and be back up and running in seconds. This compares to the potential hours it would take to restore functionality after the loss of an unmanaged server. Virtualization management tools also offer the ability to take snapshots of a running VM. These snapshots can serve as backups, or they can be converted into master images of their own right. This is a quick and easy route to patch testing; take a copy of a live running server, fire it up on a test host and see if your patches break anything. Similarly, if you have a need to create a new class of VMs that are very similar to an exist one, but have a slightly different configuration or application loadout, you can simply take a snapshot, convert it to master, make your changes, and spawn an entire line of VMs from there. The potential time savings to IT support staff is huge. Virtualization management tools offer automation that presents real world benefits to organizations of all sizes.