Understanding the hidden costs of virtualisation

The perceived value of data is increasing. Indeed, for many organisations data is their most valuable asset. This means IT managers have found themselves under more pressure than ever before to maximise data centre space, improve efficiencies and reduce overheads. To this end, a key step for IT teams is to consolidate and organise physical servers.

Over the last decade, enterprises have adopted virtualisation as their default strategy to do just that. The benefits have been widely explored – increasing operational efficiency and utilisation, while at the same time removing the need to spend large amounts upfront on cumbersome hardware, not to mention software licenses. So why would anyone argue against virtualisation?

>See also: Increasing virtualisation workloads reduces memory capacity

There are a number of crucial setbacks which are less widely reported, when it comes to virtualisation. The primary pitfalls that IT managers often discover are related to escalating costs and unforeseen complexity within the data centre. IT pros should keep in mind that virtualisation may not be appropriate for every situation or environment. It is therefore important to understand the potential flaws and possible scenarios before going all-in. Here are four key factors to be aware of:

Increasing expectations

Today, data underpins business continuity and therefore user expectations for server uptime are higher than ever before. More than at any time, the prospect of downtime is punishing for a company’s reputation and bottom line, meaning it must be avoided. This places added pressure on IT administrators to keep all machines up and running.

Ideally, a fully dynamic and optimised infrastructure is achieved by an IT admin carefully running through a checklist or policy each time a new virtual machine (VM) is “spun up”. In reality, IT administrators are extremely strapped for time and can no longer afford to manually go through checklists.

>See also: Defining and embracing data-driven decisions in IT operations

Instead, they are spending their resources on keeping the data centre lights on by ensuring users have access to the data and files they need to keep the business moving forward. This is dangerous and leads to far more complexity over time, meaning many VMs are not properly set up and monitored. The net result equates to hidden costs.

Having strict processes and policies in place and effectively communicating them to all necessary users is critical to keeping these expectations in check.

VM sprawl

Virtualisation sprawl occurs when a large volume of virtual machines are running on a network and lack the necessary IT control and management to handle the volume. A common VM sprawl instance is when multiple departments begin spinning up VMs at their own will. Poor visibility into and management of these machines result in severe bottlenecks or even an entire system crash.

VM sprawl is a real problem for virtual administrators and significantly drives up costs because of its counterproductive nature.

To fight VM Sprawl, savvy IT administrators take the time to deploy an automated approach so that they can then monitor their virtual environments with complete visibility.
These tactics afford administrators with the ability to determine where VMs reside, whether they are in use or idle, and if they pose a security threat to the business.

>See also: 10 things CIOs should know before choosing storage for virtual environments

By implementing a cloud automation platform that provides a self-service portal, users can proactively provision requests for new VMs and better manage resource reconfiguration throughout the virtual machine lifecycle.

Furthermore, users can quickly identify capacity usage to decommission and reclaim resources of machines that are no longer needed, thereby saving the business money.


As VMs have become more popular, licensing terms, which can impact the level of control over applications, can be confusing. Due diligence must be exercised in order to ensure the organisation is in possession of all the required licenses.

Once the required licenses have been purchased, IT administrators must regularly pay careful attention to the ever-changing VM environment to ensure the licensing agreement supports emerging infrastructure to avoid penalties.

Maintenance and optimisation

As data centres scale up at an extraordinary speed, managing the workloads of hundreds to thousands of VMs is no easy task. Security and monitoring as well as backup, recovery and continuity are all concerns when it comes to continued maintenance of VMs, as with physical servers. While responsibilities align between the two types of environments, managing VMs can result in additional challenges that could result in, unanticipated costs.

>See also: Ten reasons for embracing SDN as part of digital transformation

Virtual systems are highly dynamic, meaning IT administrators have to redouble their efforts when it comes to ensuring the environment is secure and performing optimally. For example, the hardware resources used in physical environments cannot be applied to virtual environments, so organisations must implement additional solutions to protect, monitor and manage their VMs.

By deploying the right software, IT and virtual administrators can get the clarity they need to monitor performance, capacity and the overall health of the virtualised data centre, helping them to avoid being faced with hidden costs, but also avoiding costly downtime.

IT professionals need to ensure they stay informed on all aspects of creating, scaling and managing virtualised environments. Critical to success is the ability to remain accountable and compliant with organisational guidelines, while having the appropriate tools at hand to ensure the organisations’ VMs are running optimally at all times.


Sourced by Adrian Moir, senior consultant, Product Management, Quest Software


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...