Windows Insider

VM Self-Service: Right Feature, Wrong User

VM Self-Service could be confusing for even the most seasoned IT pro. Thankfully, Greg is here to shed some light on what it means for your private cloud.

Does the term "VM self-service" make your palms sweat? You're not alone. It does that to a legion of Windows IT professionals.

Even so, Microsoft defines VM self-service as a key component of its private cloud description. Lacking self-service, Microsoft says your private cloud is little more than a well-oiled virtual environment.

What's interesting is the perspiration doesn't appear to be caused by the feature itself. Most admins love the idea. Where they get hung up is with that feature's end user.

Wrong User
I've crisscrossed the country this year, training IT pros on cloud technologies. I've learned that the notion of self-service all too often conjures apocalyptical images of uncontrolled chaos. The fears include the following: VMs might appear out of nowhere and disappear without warning. Untold security hazards can wink in and out of existence. Critical data could evaporate without protection as self-served VMs fail to coordinate with backup solutions.

At the center of this perceived maelstrom stands the self-serving user. Given a resource pool with which to provision VMs at will, that user is suddenly empowered with the one thing IT pros dread: choice.

"Give users a choice, and they'll inadvertently choose the wrong one," I heard from an attendee at a recent training event. Another passionately proclaimed, "I'd never give my users the ability to create their own VMs. That's a disaster waiting to happen."

Ironically, they're right. VM self-service isn't necessarily intended for use by your regular, non-technical users. In most implementations, the person doing the self-serving will be someone else in IT.

Right Feature
Consider for a minute the work-breakdown structure in your IT organization. Some individuals are probably responsible for managing the core infrastructure. In the old days, these peoples' jobs included unboxing servers, racking-and-stacking, OS installations and patching, and the regular care and feeding of data- center equipment.

Others take responsibility for applications. Every situation is different, so this second team might focus on home-built and line-of-business apps. They might also be "the Citrix people" or "the SQL people." Sometimes they're a combination of both.

As environments mature and grow in complexity, these two groups begin drifting apart. At some point applications people stop building servers themselves. Their needs have made them a customer of the infrastructure team: "Need a new server? Our group takes care of that."

Fast-forward a few years and you'll see the infrastructure team's job has changed. Unboxing servers and racking-and-stacking have (almost) been replaced by virtual environment maintenance.

Application teams are still doing the same job. They still manage everything above the OS. They still make requests when they need servers.

Accelerating that request fulfillment is the central mission of VM self- service. Rather than wasting time manually provisioning each new VM, self-service offers a bounded experience for automating VM delivery. It doesn't change the relationship -- it speeds up the transactions.

Not Vaporware
Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012, in combination with the new System Center App Controller, delivers the rich experience that fits this delegation of responsibility. Infrastructure teams do their work in VMM, while applications teams do theirs inside the simplified App Controller interface.

Self-service needn't get you sweating when you reconsider its intended audience. Rather than uncontrolled chaos, it offers much-needed automation for the real consumer of datacenter resources: IT itself.

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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Thu, Oct 4, 2012 Tom

I agree with the article, but it (like many before and after) neglect certain aspects that put the admin ill at ease (and it isn't JUST end users getting access and using it incorrectly). My biggest concern, and the one I hear most often from admins is not that Applications spins up and uses the VM's, but rather that they NEVER destroy them, even as they go unused (just in case). Moreover, each of these "Used" VM's continue to eat up licenses, disk space, perhaps compute resources (if left on), etc; with no real way to prevent it. Chargeback systems, if implimented properly and rigorously could limit that, but that is rarely the case when dealing with Private Clouds. Departments see it as Virtual Money that really doesn't cost the company anything. Only when it is outsourced with actual payouts does it ever REALLY seem to come into play.

Wed, Oct 3, 2012 Wayne Hoggett Australia

I thought this was obvious. Obviously not :) Giving tech savvy users and IT Staff a way to spin up a VM, test their new software patch and destroy it when they're done has to be a good thing.

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