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Preventing sprawl with a virtualized Sharepoint deployment


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Adding virtualization to SharePoint governance

Prepare a plan of attack in your governance plan to prevent virtualization sprawl in your SharePoint deployment.

It is easy to think of a SharePoint governance plan as a set of rules that end users must follow. But many organizations are finding that a well conceived governance plan can also help prevent servers from being deployed in a haphazard manner. This is especially true when it comes to server virtualization.

When the concept of virtualization was first introduced, it was portrayed as a strategy that would reduce the number of physical servers that organizations have to maintain, thereby reducing hardware and licensing costs in the process. As server virtualization technologies have matured, though, organizations are finding that the opposite is often true.

Virtualization technologies such as Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware's ESX make it so easy to deploy virtual machines (VMs) that virtualization sprawl has quickly become a major issue. 

Growth is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's critical that you carefully control VM deployments during expansion in an effort to prevent chaos. This is where your SharePoint governance plan comes into play. Although your governance plan may not currently address virtualization, it should be extended in a way that allows you to set some ground rules for virtualized SharePoint deployments.

When building out SharePoint, the idea of deploying extra VMs on an as-needed basis probably sounds like a reasonable approach. After all, virtualization exists so that we can have that kind of flexibility, right? The problem is that organizations often fail to realize that there are very real costs associated with VM deployments.

Many organizations look at VMs as something they can deploy for free because there are no direct hardware costs associated with them. Depending on the version of Windows Server that you are using, there may not be any costs associated with licensing the VM's operating system. But that's where the freebies end. You are still obligated to pay for SharePoint licenses, as well as licenses for anything else that is running on the server, such as backup software agents and antivirus software.

Indirect hardware costs are another expense. Every host server has a finite capacity. If you deploy a VM, then you have consumed some of the host server's overall capacity. You have to consider whether or not that server's resources could have been better used for some other purpose. This is especially important when you consider that eventually you have to justify the cost of purchasing another host server when the resources on your current server are finally depleted.

When you take into account the actual costs of deploying additional SharePoint servers on VMs, you'll see that your governance document could potentially act as a cost-control mechanism. To take advantage of that benefit, you don't need to add a clause to your governance document that says "Thou shalt not add virtual SharePoint servers." You should, however, specifically state the circumstances that warrant the addition of new virtual servers.

As you create your list that defines the circumstances for adding machines, keep in mind that exhausting the capacity of an existing VM may not be a good reason for creating additional VMs. After all, VMs are flexible, and it is relatively easy to allocate additional resources to a VM or to move one to a more powerful host server. In fact, it is almost always more cost-effective to allocate more resources to an existing VM than it is to create a new one because licensing and support costs increase every time you add a VM.

If you decide to operate SharePoint within a virtual environment, there will inevitably be circumstances that justify the creation of additional virtual SharePoint servers. But decide ahead of time what those circumstances are and include that information in your virtualization plan within your SharePoint governance document. Doing so will help protect you against unexpected costs and against the growing pains associated with VM sprawl.

Brien M. Posey has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award six times for his work with Windows Server, IIS, file systems/storage and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox.

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