Cloud threat as ‘zombie VMs’ sprawl

Boot Menu of a VMware Workstation virtual machine

Virtual sprawl goes Zombie in cloud threat

Tens of millions of pounds tied up in petabytes of wasted storage as Zombie Virtual Machines continue to be a problem

By ECM Plus staff

ECM Plus +++ Real-Status CTO, Stace Hipperson, has warned that Virtual Machine administrators still need to be extra-vigilant against VM sprawl as more and more users ‘self-provision’ to set up their own virtual machines.

VMs, software implementations of computers that execute programs like physical machines, are the enabling technology behind cloud computing.

However, the ease with which VMs are created and the lack of discipline in removing them when no longer needed means VMs are needlessly using up valuable resources and generally creating ongoing performance problems, according to Hipperson.

With cloud computing, end users can set up VMs on their own without the participation of IT management. Hipperson said the scale of this problem becomes apparent when taking into account VMware’s news in July that there are over 20 million VMs running on vSphere alone, and someone turns on a new VM every six seconds.

Said Hipperson: “Even conservative calculations show petabytes (1 + 15 zeros) of storage are being wasted, and that costs tens of millions of pounds. Virtual machines are very cheap and easy to set up, and many are created for temporary use and not because there is an ongoing need for the business. Unfortunately these “zombie” VMs are often left to run on and on when not serving any useful purpose, and that wastes valuable resources.”

Most IT managers now believe they are too busy handling maintenance, upgrades and troubleshooting to police unused virtual machines, Hipperson suggests, adding that administrators could use automated tools to undertake systematic audits of all VMs and identify those that have not been used recently – a month or longer, for example. Then the owner can be queried to determine if the VM really needs to be kept.

Added Hipperson: “There are crucial differences between server “utilisation” and actual ‘usage’ that need to be differentiated. This would be a risky strategy if important data and documents were threatened with deletion, even if they haven’t been accessed recently, so a review policy will focus on truly wasted space.”

Hierarchical storage management can be used, he suggests, so important, but infrequently accessed information, can be moved to lower cost storage devices. Hipperson says tiered storage will free up the most expensive storage resources, and when combined with eliminating truly unnecessary Zombie VMs, enterprises can improve their return on investment from virtualisation.

Real-Status has developed a new method of visualising IT devices, such as virtual machines, and performance metrics about the devices on a single screen. The company uses 3D modelling and filtering techniques, which are patent-pending, so users can see all the relationships between physical, virtual and cloud-based devices even when there are thousands of them. That means IT operators can apply a filter and instantly see all the Zombie VMs, how they are distributed, and who their owners are.


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Filed under Analysis, Cloud Computing, Data centres, Enterprise Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, Private Cloud, Public Cloud, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), Trusted Cloud, Virtualization, VM2VM, VPS Cloud

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