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It’s Midnight: Do You Know Where Your Virtual Machines Are?


Enterprises love virtual machines (VMs). However, one challenge posed by the shift toward virtualization is the creation of many new VMs at a rapid pace, leading to less-than-effective management of the overall VM deployment, and resulting in costly VM sprawl. A major byproduct of this rapidly-expanding sprawl is the creation of rogue VMs, specifically, those that occur under the IT radar. These rogue VMs – and sprawl, in general – put your IT operations at risk. Dormant VMs can still consume valuable storage capacity and compute power. Here we will look at some ways in which you can get better control of your VMs, to both optimize their use, and to improve the ROI of your virtualization investment.

It’s Midnight: Do You Know Where Your Virtual Machines Are?

VMs allow multiple independent instances to coexist simultaneously on the same physical server, for better resource utilization, reduced power consumption, and lower costs. VMs also aid in workload mobility; by abstracting computer resources into virtualized representations that are independent of underlying hardware, a virtual machine can be easily migrated across local area networks (LANs) from one physical system to another, usually with minimal interruption. Since VMs are basically just code and data instances that run inside allocated memory space, a complete VM can be easily represented as a disk file. An entire VM – complete with operating system, drivers, applications and associated data – can be encapsulated in a disk file that can be loaded quickly to startup a VM – and can also be easily duplicated to create cloned VMs, as necessary. The changing state of a VM can be easily captured as disk files, or snapshots, that enable the VM’s state to be captured and stored at regular intervals, and quickly restored in the event of a crash or corruption. As you can see, there’s a lot to like about virtual machines.

Deploying VMs is easy and can be automated, which is particularly useful when you need to configure a bundle of machines at the same time. The downside is that you can easily wind up with a sprawling infrastructure of unnecessary VMs that can actually go dormant while still consuming valuable storage capacity and compute power. VM sprawl like this can quickly impact your IT budget and ROI, while at the same time impeding optimum use of your virtual infrastructure. It also makes it easy for “rogue” VMs to enter your IT environment. These VMs are the ones that fall outside your sphere of control, and can pose a significant drain on IT resources – and can even put your company at risk. Hidden from your view, these VMs can go ungoverned and unprotected and are susceptible to inadvertent duplication, accidental loss, and even cybersecurity threats. Is it the kind of risk you’re willing to take?

Gaining control over of your VMs allows your IT teams to optimize and automate them throughout their lifecycle, improving ROI and minimizing the risk of rogue VMs. Here are five simple steps that can mitigate VM sprawl and help you reclaim valuable resources:

“To fight VM Sprawl, savvy IT administrators take the time to deploy an automated approach so that they can then monitor their virtual environments with complete visibility.”

  1. Take a Lifecycle Approach. Managing VMs is somewhat the opposite of set-it-and-forget-it. To uncover rogue VMs, you’ll want to exercise better control over your VM assets and optimize your VMs. You’ll need to be vigilant during the entire lifecycle of the VM – from provisioning to protection to decommissioning.
    • Provisioning. Since moving more workloads to the cloud is becoming a standard operating principle, you need a management portal that supports a diverse hybrid, cloud, and VM environment… and does so efficiently and cost-effectively. You’ll want to be able to quickly provision and recover VMs, regardless of your environment or which hypervisor(s) you happen to be running.
    • Protection. A VM data protection platform that easily extends data protection policies and schedules across mixed virtual environments – including both on-premises and in the cloud – helps simplify the ongoing management of your environment. It also helps to eliminate redundant infrastructure and costly data silos, both of which can be a source of rogue VMs and general VM sprawl. By capturing all your assets on a single platform, you’ll have greater visibility into all the VM assets across your enterprise.
    • Decommissioning. Disposition of aging or unused VMs can be a constant headache for IT and virtualization managers. Having a single virtual repository and index will give you a solid foundation for properly tracking and managing these assets across their entire lifecycle.
  2. Consolidate VM Management. Your VMs are multiplying, and the assortment of stand-alone tools being used to manage them are contributing to VM sprawl and consuming valuable IT resources. Let’s face it, point products contribute to confusion and waste: rogue VMs using storage and resources that could be used for other valueadd applications, vendor lock-in, and VMs that should have been decommissioned but fell under the radar due to your inability to properly track them. This redundancy in VM management is costing you time… and money:
    • Your IT folks are spending unnecessary cycles integrating multivendor management tools and policies.
    • Their time is consumed attempting to rationalize governance and compliance standards across a spectrum of tools, each with their own idiosyncratic architecture.
    • Vendor lock-in makes it difficult for them to shift to a better, more efficient solution.

    Consolidation – essentially eliminating these data management silos – is the first step in being able to obtain clear visibility into all VM assets across your enterprise.

    As an IT or virtualization executive responsible for your budget and resources, it makes sense to free yourself from vendor lockin, and inefficient management tools that share no commonality of infrastructure. Moving to a single, purpose-built solution can provide the management and protection you need, help ensure a common set of policies and schedules, and significantly conserve IT time and resources that are better used to enact business value initiatives.

  3. Enable Workflow Automation. Getting better control of your VM asset inventory should not involve adding costly labor-intensive processes to your IT task list. If you’re responsible for managing a significant number of VMs, automating such processes as virtual machine creation, renewal or deletion, storage policy changes, or system registration will save you time and money by ensuring that the same task can berepeated seamlessly and error-free, regardless of the scale of your operations. An automation solution will also allow you to modify any of your built-in workflows to execute customized tasks within your environment.
  4. Operationalize VM Archiving. One of the main culprits of VM sprawl would be virtual machines that have been deployed for a specific task, but left to run after the task has been completed. These VMs consume both storage capacity and compute power. This is a common occurrence in Dev/Test environments, but it can also apply to those rogue, ungoverned VMs that may exist across your enterprise.

    With a comprehensive VM archiving solution – one that incorporates traditional backup and virtual machine archiving in a single operation – you can begin to regain control over your virtual environment.

    Sure, shutting down, relocating, and archiving inactive virtual machines can help solve the problem of VM sprawl, especially when virtual machines have been created but not cleaned-up. But when your archived VMs are indexed and searchable, recovering granular files or even full virtual machines from your archives becomes a simple, self-service task. By operationalizing this process, you conserve IT resources, greatly improve your VM management, and free up compute power for more pressing, value-add tasks.

  5. Provide Self-Service Recovery. In addition to all the tasks involved with protecting, archiving, and managing VMs, VM administrators are also tasked with recovering any VMs that, for whatever reason, may become unavailable. What if you could manage this without committing unnecessary staff time and resources? Would that be of value to you? With a solution that can enable self-service recovery, you can add efficiency and conserve your already-overtaxed IT resources. When evaluating any virtualization management solution, some things to keep in mind include:
    • Do you currently have adequate permissions and controls in place for your VMs?
    • How are you ensuring that your most sensitive data is kept secure?
    • Are you able to directly recover your VMs from your primary site, DR site, cloud storage or archive?

    With policy controls fully in place, and carefully-administered data protection access rules, you have a solid foundation for deploying a software solution that enables self-service VM recovery, while at the same time helping to mitigate risk.

Protect, Monitor and Manage Your Virtualized Data

Read about the six ways you can improve data management across physical, virtual and cloud environments.

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VM sprawl is time sprawl… it’s budget sprawl... and it’s resource waste. And with virtual machines continuing to proliferate across multiple environments, the sprawl will only get worse, unless your IT and virtualization teams can take the necessary steps to finally rein it in.

Look at the complete lifecycle of your virtual machines – from provisioning, through use, all the way to decommissioning. Think about what tools are available that can help you better identify and control your VM assets, allowing you to conserve staff and compute resources. Think about how you can enable automation and better workflows, so that processes can be further streamlined, and risk minimized. Think about how you can easily scale, to accommodate future growth.

With solutions in place that cover the entire lifecycle and operations of your virtualized environment, you won’t have to spend another night trying to track down and manage those rogue VMs!

Managing VMs is somewhat the opposite of set-it-andforget-it. To uncover rogue VMs, you’ll want to exercise better control over your VM assets and optimize your VMs. You’ll need to be vigilant during the entire lifecycle of the VM – from provisioning to protection to decommissioning.

  1. 2017 State of the Cloud Report, RightScale, 2017
  2. Source:
  3. Nick Ismail, “Understanding the Hidden Costs of Virtualization,” Information Age, Oct. 12, 2017
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Rein in your VM sprawl. Learn more about how Commvault data virtualization solutions can help.