How to prevent VM sprawl?

Before preventing virtual machine (VM) sprawl or virtualization sprawl, it's important to understand what VM sprawl is and what causes it, so you can solve the issue at its core and make VM management easier.

What is VM sprawl?

When multiple virtual machines are created for various functions, over time, the number of virtual machines will eventually exceed the management capacity of the IT admin. The IT admin may lose track of the VMs and their functions.

Not only is it inefficient to spend time on managing unused VMs, it can be disastrous to delete an existing VM without knowing its functions.

The virtual machines end up draining processing power, bandwidth, storage, and electricity—the very resources they were supposed to save in the first place.

What are the risks associated with virtual machine sprawl?

The bad news is that these issues are just the tip of the iceberg for the IT admin. VM sprawl can result in:

  • Additional costs
    While creating additional VMs does not cost your organization any money, the OSs that run on your virtual machines are licensed to your organization. When there are idle VMs running, it's just a waste of commercial licenses, which, depending on how many extra licenses you're paying for, can amount to thousands of dollars a year spent on an unused resource.
  • Security and compliance issues
    When virtual machines are not properly managed, it's difficult to identify the VMs that have not been patched. This greatly increases the chances of loopholes and blind spots that hackers can use to break into your organization and makes it difficult to strictly enforce security compliance policies for updating and patching software.
  • Performance degradation
    VMs that host business applications can experience performance lag due to other unnecessary VMs draining the shared processing power, bandwidth, and disk space. Ultimately, this impacts end users, which then impacts business revenue, employee productivity, and your reputation.
  • Backups
    Some of your crucial business data may be handled by VMs. Managing backups using VM snapshots is a grueling task, especially with a higher number of VMs. The backup systems can be easily exhausted without effectively identifying idle VMs and functional VMs.
  • Management
    Finally, VM sprawl or virtualization sprawl essentially means you will have to waste time carrying out management tasks on VMs that aren't being used at all.

5 practical tips to prevent VM sprawl

Let's take a look at some of the most practical tips for preventing VM sprawl and simplifying VM management in your IT environment.

1. Maintain an inventory

Create a common inventory for all the virtual machines and hosts, and update it periodically. This inventory helps you understand the function of every VM in your environment and helps you keep track of the VMs created for multiple purposes by different IT staff.

2. Categorize VMs based on groups or departments

Create groups based on VM functions or classify them by their departments. Whether you're creating a new VM, optimizing the existing virtual environment, or applying new configurations, these groups make VM management easy.

3. Identify idle VMs

Based on bandwidth consumption, audit the VMs and identify idle VMs early before they take up too much disk space and cache memory. After this, you have two choices:

a. Delete the VM along with its junk files if it's no longer needed.
b. Archive the VM if you need it again down the road for a similar function.

4. Identify VMs with under- or over-allocated resources

Since virtual machines are used to provide a top-notch end-user experience, it's crucial to ensure that they have enough resources to do it. To achieve this, you need to constantly monitor virtual machines to identify VMs that have high CPU, memory, and disk utilization.

Similarly, you need to monitor VMs to identify the ones that have over-allocated memory and disk space. You can then modify configurations to ensure your VMs receive sufficient resources, which can help you avoid potential performance issues.

5. Audit VMs periodically

It's a good practice to audit your VMs from time to time to identify anomalies in their performance. Generate reports periodically and analyze important parameters such as CPU usage, memory usage, and disk usage to evaluate their health.

This helps you identify patterns in performance degradation early on for individual VMs and make more informed VM management decisions. This is a holistic approach every IT admin can adopt to prevent VM sprawl.

Making VM management simple with OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager is a VM management tool. It supports a variety of virtualization technologies such as Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware, Citrix Hypervisor, and even Nutanix Clusters. OpManager makes your work simple by:

  1. Creating an inventory for VMs and hosts.
  2. pdating VM inventory using automatic network scans.
  3. Categorizing devices based on predefined criteria.
  4. Identifying idle VMs based on bandwidth consumption.
  5. Identifying VMs with over- and under-allocated resources.
  6. Monitoring VM performance in real time.
  7. Raising alerts on VM performance issues.
  8. Generating reports on VM performance and resource (CPU, memory, and disk) usage periodically.
  • VM sprawl summary - ManageEngine OpManager
  • Virtualization sprawl dashboard - ManageEngine OpManager
  • VM sprawl report - ManageEngine OpManager
  • VM Inventory - ManageEngine OpManager

As an IT admin, you can choose to do all the above manually, or you can simply download OpManager, sit back, and let the tool do the work for you.

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