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I guess I really am a blue-collar type of guy… Certainly, there were many interesting technologies previewed at VMworld, including some mind-blowing features and capabilities that allow transparent failover and transactional integrity using pedestrian hardware and software. Pretty astounding stuff!

But, to be honest, my favorite talk was given not by the technologists and marketers, but by two folks from the IT Operations group from VMware. Tayloe Stansbury and Drew Kramer gave a fantastic talk called, “How VMWare Virtualizes Its Own IT Environment.”

Tayloe and Drew talked about delivering some of the most mission critical IT services for VMware, including the financial reporting systems and email, to VMware through periods of incredible growth, resulting in pressures to increase capacity and provide an infrastructure more resilient to failures.

I wish they had talked more about the change and configuration processes required to achieve their stabilization of service levels, which mostly likely had far more to do with their results than virtualization. Some of their interesting lessons learned included (Gene’s commentary in parentheses):

  • The real lurking problem of virtualization sprawl (in the absence of good preventive and detection controls, beyond “hey, why is my ESX cluster running slowly”)
  • The not-insignificant upfront investment required to really architect an IT service correctly for virtualization (they gave an example of their Microsoft Exchange environment: 1 quarter to archtect, 1quarter to implement)
  • That the uptime risks aren’t from the technology, but from the daily operational tasks (only 1 ESX server crash in the last two years, but I’m sure they’ve had plenty of IT service interruptions not caused by ESX)
  • Monitoring VMs for low usage, which make them candidates for decommisioning (apparently, like reclaiming bodies for food in the movie Silent Running.)

For those of you who want to study their slides, as I do, look out for presentation TA3808, which will hopefully be posted on the VMworld website soon.

Great job, Tayloe and Drew! You make hard working IT operations folks everywhere proud! :-)

Okay, guys, what was your favorite VMworld session?