An Overview on Virtual Machines

Virtual Machines can bring increased mobility and productivity to your business, but before you start filling your screen up with VMs, it is important to first have a strong understanding of what they are and how you can license them. At MetrixData 360, we have worked alongside plenty of organizations looking to maximize the efficiency of their software environment, including the use of their VMs. So today we’ll get into a few of your most pressing questions surrounding virtual machines.

What is a Virtual Machine (VM)?

Just to quickly summarize, a virtual machine (VM) is a virtual environment that behaves separately from the rest of your software environment. It is basically a computer that runs inside another computer, appearing as a window on your screen. It can drastically reduce the time that is required to bring a new server online, going from weeks or months to mere minutes or hours. By booting an operating installer disc (either a virtual or physical one) inside the VM, it is tricked into thinking it is running on a real computer. The actual operating system on your device is called the Host operating system and the operating systems on the VMs are called Guests. Just to keep things from getting too confusing, here is a guide to some terminology from VM Ware.

VMs come with many advantages:

  • They allow you to safely try out new applications or data that you know is infected with a virus without having them mingle with the rest of your software environment through the use of sandboxing.
  • They allow you to use different operating systems and run applications your main operating system wouldn’t be able to support.
  • They are easy to remove from your operating system once you are finished.

The downside of VMs is that the virtualization process has the tendency to add some lag to the programs you are attempting to run, especially if that program requires copious amounts of storage.

You can run multiple VMs at the same time, with the only limitation being how much storage your hard drive has.

VM Sprawl

The main appeal to virtual machines is how fast they are to bring online and the lack of governance that usually surrounds physical servers within an organization. However, with this agility comes the main concern with VMs: letting them run away from you. This is true for anything that is easy and fast to make, whether that is emails, files, or databases, all of which suffer from sprawl issues. VM sprawl occurs when your company loses track of how many VMs are connected to your software environment. It remains one of the biggest concerns organizations face when it comes to virtual machines. When employees can spin up as many VMs as they like, your company runs the risk of having more than your network can support or than your licenses allow you to have.

There are a few ways one can deal with VM sprawl. You can get a reporting tool to monitor your software environment, however, this only addresses part of the issue, since reporting tools will only give you visibility into the problem. You can track whether it is getting better or worse but there may be very little indication of where the problem is coming from. It is also important to have policies and governance in place that will allow for the cleanup of unused VMs and make it possible to recycle them back into your environment.

Licensing Virtual Machines

Virtual machines are essentially devices that have been built and simply exist on another device. So, in case you were wondering, you absolutely need a license for them. How those VMs are licensed is the real tricky part. Some of the features that can create challenges around licensing VM include:

  • High Mobility: You can potentially move an entire virtualized operating system from one host to another.
  • Near-complete Isolation is Needed: If you want to create portability of your VMs guest files, you’ll need it to be near totally isolated, with the main exception being CPU/processor models.
  • Snapshots of a Machine State: Being able to take snapshots allows for the possibility to revert back to a previous state quickly and to repeatedly reinstall a trial to gain additional usage.
  • Advanced CPU Compatibility Masking: this allows for per-virtual machine customization.

As you can see, trying to license VMs can be challenging, especially with the minimal fingerprint a VM leaves on its host device and the quick and easy ability to clone a VM. If you license a device to a piece of software, potentially countless VMs could access that software.

The specific rules revolving around licenses differ from vendor to vendor and licensing type to licensing type.

For IBM, for instance, a VM needs to be licensed for any software that it comes into contact with, and it must be licensed as though it were a regular device. You can find more details about the matter in our article.

For Microsoft, licenses that are eligible for license mobility through software can be moved to an Azure environment with default per-minute cost. Windows Server licenses are not eligible for license mobility but if you have Software Assurance, you can utilize the Azure Hybrid Benefits in order to access cheaper per-minute costs.

If you can’t already tell, this can become quite confusing very quickly.

There are general rules you can use to minimize your risk of running up against compliance issues.

  • Detection and prevention tactics
  • Utilize Network Floating Licenses, which will allow you to track the number of concurrent users using the software, which will force VMs to communicate with a central licensing server.
  • Periodic license validation, this will allow for a central server communication and the transfer and revocation of licenses.
  • License a special build if you can’t avoid running virtual machines. This will allow you run virtual machines, although it will be set at a higher price point in order to counter the costs of anticipated VM cloning.

Still Have Questions?

Virtual Machines can make our lives so much easier and make our work so much more productive, so long as we properly understand them and know how to license them. The last thing you need right now is being forced to either prove which nearly invisible virtual machine did what or simply take the brunt the full blow of an audit penalty, especially when you’re pretty sure you don’t owe as much as the auditors are saying you do. At MetrixData 360, we have helped companies clean up the messiest software environments by getting them started on software asset management and taught them to keep even the most untraceable software in line. Learn more about how you can get started with software asset management.

About MetrixData 360

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