Preventing VM sprawl

Tags:
Virtual Machines
VM sprawl
Our organization is starting to deploy more virtual machines (VMs). Should we be concerned about VM sprawl? How can it be prevented?
ASKED: June 2, 2008  4:28 PM
UPDATED: June 17, 2011  1:10 PM

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Simply put VM sprawl is the uncontrolled growth of virtual machines in a virtual environment. Star Trek fans can relate to this from the popular “Trouble with Tribbles” episode where the tribbles reproduce so quickly that they threaten to overwhelm the host ship’s food supplies. VM sprawl is similar because many administrators create VMs without any regard for the resources that they consume and the possibility of overwhelming the host server’s resources. Many consider VMs as “free” servers since VMs do not have a physical presence and creating them is simple and easy.

Some ways to deal with sprawl are implementing a chargeback system like Vkernel’s capacity and chargeback appliance or Vizioncore’s vCharter products for VMware that create reports on resource usage. Microsoft Hyper-V will have some charge-back metrics available but lacks the tools to make effective use of them. In addition limiting who can create virtual machines and implementing a formal process for requesting new virtual machines is a more effective method then allowing too many people to have access to create virtual machines at will. You should require justification for requests for any new VMs and have an approval process to get users to think twice about if they really need another VM. Finally creating resource pools is a helpful way to to limit the amount of resources available on your host servers for new VMs.

If you don’t control sprawl you may use up all your host resources before you know it and also create bottlenecks that may reduce the performance of all your VMs. Tight control of your virtual environment is the key to limiting the growth of virtual machines.

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  • Mhoesing
    Policy, and awareness training can supplement the sound approach above. Explaining the pain of software license litigation may suppress some of the desire to indiscriminately create guests. Configuresoft, Ecora and similar monitoring & assessment tools usually highlight rouge guests.
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  • JennyMack
    You might want to check out Anil Desai's crash course in virtualization. He discusses the issue of VM sprawl and managing it with a VM library.
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  • Techdude2723
    Just be weary of your virtual machines and deactivate them when they are no longer necessary. This is easy—download a free tool (netwrix virtual machine sprawl tracker is one example-- www.netwrix.com) that will provide you with usage stats and report on VMs not being used so you can deactivate them.
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