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Why the Ideal Virtual Infrastructure Is 'Boring Business as Usual'

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted January 11, 2012


When it comes to server virtualization and moving to the cloud, don't look to Symantec for excitement: The company's mission is to make your life as boring as possible.

Symantec's point is that virtualization technology leads companies to carry out many activities -- including security, backup, storage management and all the other things Symantec is involved with -- in new and different ways. This is often counterproductive, according to Todd Zambrovitz, Symantec's global marketing manager, virtualization. "All this complexity often introduces additional costs. So the cost savings you make through virtualization are often lost because of additional costs due to new hardware and storage, redundant processes, segmented staff and new skill sets."

He believes that virtualization, regardless of hypervisor, should simply be treated as another platform like Windows or Linux. The tools used for backing up and securing your physical estate should be the same ones you use for your virtual environment. And that's regardless of whether you are simply dipping a toe in the water by virtualizing a few servers or running a fully automated private cloud infrastructure. "Our intent is to try and keep everything boring business as usual," Zambrovitz says. "The last thing any vendor should do is say 'This is how you do backup in a static environment, this is how you do it in a cloud computing environment'. They should be concentrating on keeping things as minimally disruptive as possible."

It's an idea that Microsoft embraces with System Center -- the whole idea of the management system is to manage an entire corporate infrastructure, with modules like Virtual Machine Manager dealing with the virtualized part of the estate. But it's probably not one VMware would agree with. You get the feeling that that company would rather you invest (heavily) in VMware software for your (VMware-based) virtualized estate for security, backup and so on, and carrying on doing whatever you've been doing in the past as far as you non-virtualized physical servers are concerned.

Nevertheless, Symantec's contention is that physical and virtual technologies are bound to become increasingly intertwined. "In 2012, many companies will combine the VM project teams and infrastructure with corporate IT. This will highlight the need for physical and virtual assets to work together as a platform," is the official Symantec line. "The days that companies could afford separate storage management and backup software for virtual and physical servers are numbered." Zambrovitz also said he believes this will lead to a change in emphasis when it comes to securing virtualized environments. "Security has been driven by virtualization people, not security people. There is going to be a switch in focus from performance to effective security."

Backup is a key area that will also be effected, Zambrovitz believes. (Co-incidentally this is an area in which Symantec is heavily involved. Go figure.) "Data center managers who have deployed separate dedupe, snapshot management, tape or disk backup, VMware and Hyper-V backup strategies will move to simplify the backup process. The idea of an uber-recovery platform will emerge because recovery from a 'Balkanized' backup environment is very complex. Vendors will need to recentralize technologies to reduce complexity."

The obvious question to ask is whether any of this matters in anything more than the short to medium term? After all, if the likes of VMware are to be believed, then before long all servers will be virtualized, all companies will have their own private clouds linking to the public cloud, and all backup, security and so on will apply to the virtualized world, as non-virtualized physical servers will become a thing of the past. But Zambrovitz points out that there will always be physical servers playing host to VMs and cloud environments, and at the end of the day the bare metal hypervisor hosts will still have to be secured. "We haven't seen a Stuxnet style hypervisor attack yet," he warns. But we will probably see one emerging sooner or later."

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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