Change Tracking in Complex Virtual Environments

It’s true — small actions can lead to big headaches. For example, some of the simplest changes can have a ripple effect throughout your virtual infrastructure. And often, IT managers have no clue — until users start complaining. With numerous IT colleagues managing and adjusting your infrastructure, it’s nearly impossible to track each and every change. But that’s part of your job — to know what those changes are.  

Back in the day, infrastructure changes had minimal impact. With physical servers, it was simple to determine which change caused an issue because usually there were only a couple of IT admins managing a single box (aka server). Virtual environments, on the other hand, are fluid and accessible by countless IT resources. For example, vSphere 6.0 supports 64 hosts, and you can have up to 8,000 VMs in a single cluster. That’s a lot of points where change events can occur.

Answering the question “What changed?” is now as complex as the environment itself. First, you’ve got to know how and where changes can occur. They can stem from cluster events, data center events, data store events or host events. They can also happen during resource pulls or from within virtual machines. Some change events are even system-initiated such as from VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler/vMotion. On top of that, you might have VMware vCloud in your environment. Changes to any of these objects in your virtual environment could negatively affect the performance and availability of your objects within the environment — even when a change is intended to help boost performance or solve a problem.

So what do you do? You could rely on existing log data to get a grasp on your changes, but searching the log won’t help you understand how a change to one aspect of your virtual environment impacts another. When it comes to troubleshooting and diagnostics, you really need as much information as possible. Otherwise, it will require a hands-on investigation involving many people and a lot of time to get to the root of the problem. 

Unfortunately, in environments with potentially hundreds or thousands of virtual machines with numerous people making changes, it’s impossible for one IT professional to keep tabs on what everyone else is doing. Management tasks are spread out among teams and physical locations. To help with change tracking, some organizations use a basic workflow system or protocol. For example, every time someone wants to make a change, he or she must submit a form. And junior staff members may need signatures and approvals from senior staff members before being allowed to make a change. This is inefficient, to put it mildly, as well as time-consuming.

But sometimes even these processes fly out the window when the system is down or administrators are dealing with a crisis. Occasionally, changes go undocumented entirely. In very large organizations, there can be as many as 10,000 virtual machines — often spread throughout production, QA and development environments. This many VMs can generate a lot of change events, and any one of them could potentially cause a problem for a mission-critical application or a virtual machine hosting such an app.

Enterprise-level organizations need more than just the typical virtual center or a manual way of keeping track of changes. Changes to objects are obvious, but changes to other virtual elements — such as reservations, limits and shares — can have a huge impact too. Certain technologies are designed specifically to streamline the change management process in virtual environments, enabling IT managers to keep tabs on changes much more easily.

Getting ahead of the change management game begins with understanding what is changing so you can support business continuity under any circumstance. But instead of simply reacting when a change produces a negative result, what if you could anticipate the impact of changes to your virtual environment — in other words, be proactive, not reactive?

Achieving predictive business continuity means understanding the impact that changes have throughout your virtual environment, when to take action to fix problems and how to be proactive to prevent future issues.

Download the white paper “Roll with the changes” to learn more and begin to see more clearly into your virtual environment.

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