A Day in the Life of an IT Pro: A Virtual Lesson in Virtualization

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One of the wonderful things about working in IT is the way the industry is constantly evolving and changing. New and innovative systems and technologies are constantly being introduced in order to make our lives and jobs easier. From Turing’s machine in the 40s, to the internet’s first appearance in the 1970s, to the present day, where we are now actively encouraging our children to learn how to code, technology is becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy.

None of this would be possible without the pioneers who made these advancements, and also those who embraced them and implemented them into their workplaces and consequently their homes. No longer as young as I once was, I know that at times I can become comfortable using what I know, no longer proactively embracing ‘the new’. However, that wasn’t always the case…

A long time ago in a data center far, far away, I was still relatively new to the world of IT administration, but that didn’t stop me having bags of enthusiasm for the industry. I would hungrily read all the trades looking for the ‘next big thing’ I could bring to my boss that would change our lives (and earn me that big promotion).

When I heard about virtualization I knew I’d found something special. The ability to have multiple operating systems running concurrently on a single computer was rather thrilling, so I began championing this new technology at work by installing ESX 3 in our production center for the first time.

Shall we say, my slightly more seasoned colleagues, however, did not like this new system one bit. Their argument was that with 600U of space, we’d never run out, and therefore there was no need for virtualization. However, within two years, we’d consolidated down to half our space and dropped the empty racks from our cage lease. Feeling somewhat smug with this success after the initial resistance, I was about to learn a hard lesson about ‘virtual machine (VM) sprawl’.

VM sprawl usually occurs when, due to the ease of creating virtual machines on one or even several physical machines, you and your teams can easily lose track of when a new VM is being created, as people assume that they do not need to make the rest of the IT team aware. Therefore, the teams (including the network managers, IT admins etc) lose touch of what is actually on a physical machine and lots of VMs consequently pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, making them difficult to manage.

Sprawl can easily occur when introducing virtualization but not ensuring that everyone fully understands how it operates and therefore how to properly monitor it. I made the mistake of not following this advice and instead simply assumed that, like with physical boxes, the admins would be quick to delete old virtual servers when they didn’t use them anymore. What I didn’t know, was that they had figured that as long as they had the storage, they’d just shut the VMs down and leave them on the disk.

Without my knowing, this went on for months, until ‘The Big Storm’. The power was out for well over half an hour. When the power came back up, there was chaos as dozens of previously undead VMs, asleep but set to auto-start, all woke up, with duplicate IPs and conflicting app connections to databases.

Needless to say, we all learnt a lot that day, and I now understand the importance of thorough research and briefing my teams on any new technology introduced. I also learnt that the savvy IT pro runs regular inventory reports and keeps completely on top of his or her capacity planning. It seems that, while embracing new IT is always a good thing, one needs to be better versed in the wider implications of the technology and fully understand how it works before bringing it into the business environment!

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