Why Does Troubleshooting In Virtualised Environments Get Overlooked?

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Troubleshooting is a foundational skill that all IT professionals should master. It enables them to drill down to discover the root cause of issues that occur in an IT environment. However, troubleshooting virtualised environments often gets overlooked because of time constraints. IT professionals are paid to remediate, and remediate fast.

Unfortunately, identifying the root cause of a problem is often a time-consuming task. Technology that includes cloud, virtualisation, hybrid IT, and hyper-converged infrastructures has fundamentally transformed IT. Now, troubleshooting across these distributed systems is more critical and complex than ever.

Ultimately, finding the root cause of an IT issue is all about reducing the surface area of the troubleshooting radius. Imagine a circle with the root cause at the centre. To get there, you have to narrow your troubleshooting radius to eliminate false positives and all other concerns, all while managing to integrate and deliver your application services simultaneously. 

Time is a luxury IT professionals don’t always have, and troubleshooting—especially in a virtualised environment—can be particularly time-consuming across the different spans and layers of abstraction. As a result, IT professionals tend to remediate the symptoms of a larger problem instead of the root cause itself.

Key Challenges Of Troubleshooting Virtualised Environments

A significant challenge facing IT professionals looking to troubleshoot virtualised environments is that there are often too many cooks in the kitchen when something bad happens. Virtualisation, specifically, presents a complex troubleshooting scenario because the technology spans across networking, physical servers, and derivative abstractions, such as software-defined constructs and policies. All the teams responsible for these areas can become involved, which often complicates the process. 

A majority of organisations must also manage the added complexity of hybrid IT environments, where cloud providers are also part of the IT services. When using cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure and AWS, most businesses don’t have full visibility beyond their firewalls. They may have visibility and control within them, but beyond them, the lack of control and visibility required makes it much more difficult to troubleshoot.

Multi-platform troubleshooting is a real pain point. As different parts of an IT environment become increasingly distributed, complex, and siloed, it becomes exponentially difficult for IT departments to cut through the layers of an application stack to discover a single point of truth.

Another key challenge when troubleshooting virtualised environments is actually surfacing a single point of truth from the many disparate monitoring tools that are used throughout an organisation. It’s easy for IT professionals to become inundated with too many data points and alerts (aka noise), with the real problem (aka the signal) hiding amongst that info overload.

Preparing To Troubleshoot Virtualised Environments In The Age Of Hybrid IT

The need to shift techniques and thinking to accommodate the move to the cloud is a pressing one, and monitoring vendors are now adapting to this. Some solutions use billing credentials to help ensure that you have inventory accuracy out of the box, so that you will have visibility from your premises to off-premises. IT professionals should also make sure they are getting error events as part of troubleshooting. Tools that enable log aggregation—especially cloud-based logging tools like Papertrail—are particularly helpful when debugging virtual workloads.

Best Practices For Troubleshooting Virtualised Environments

When it comes to troubleshooting virtualised environments, there are three main methods. The first practice involves leveraging active and proactive alerts to gain visibility and baseline behaviour of applications. Using a monitoring tool, the goal is to quickly surface the truth and categorise issues so that you can set and customise thresholds for your operational environment. This translates into getting more of the signal and less of the alerting noise.

The second practice focuses on leveraging existing knowledge bases and known best practices to troubleshoot any virtualisation issues. If you’ve experienced the issue and remediated it before, turn that protocol into an established, known fix. Alternatively, leverage a tool with a recommendations engine to help you bridge that knowledge gap in your virtualised environment.   

Finally, when troubleshooting virtualised environments, many IT professionals will encounter a first-time occurrence of an issue that they don’t have enough information to effectively solve. This is where the third practice of using the time-series correlated data of key performance indicators across all the stacks can help teams focus on their areas of expertise and allow all teams to be on the same page. Correlated data and collaboration are key to quickly troubleshooting “new-to-you” virtualisation issues.

Troubleshooting Requires A Proper Toolset

A comprehensive IT monitoring and management tool—one that offers visibility across an entire application stack—is key to empowering these methods and addressing issues facing IT professionals tasked with troubleshooting virtualised environments. In addition, a monitoring tool enables IT professionals to collect and correlate key metrics, establishes relevant alert thresholds, and helps ensure that you have a better understanding and familiarity of your environment. That way, if an issue occurs, the root cause can be discovered efficiently and effectively. The goal is to minimise impact to the end-users.

In closing, by using a proper monitoring tool to implement the three troubleshooting methods, you and your teams will be empowered with the information you need to troubleshoot any virtualisation issue across any stack, whether it be on-premises or off-premises in the cloud.

Kong Yang

Kong Yang is a Head Geek of the Virtualisation and Cloud Practice at SolarWinds with over 20 years of IT experience specialising in virtualisation and cloud management. He is a VMware vExpert, Cisco Champion, and active contributing thought leader within the virtualisation and cloud communities.