Computers are, in a word, dumb — and virtual machines (VMs) are no different. They can perform fantastically complex operations in the tiniest fractions of a second, but ultimately they are still machines that humans have to manually program in one way or another. They do what we tell them to do. Information technology is a paradoxical world of both intense complexity and stark polar binaries. So when it comes to solving VM problems, there are a few tried-and-true techniques to aid the never-ending and often frustrating process of troubleshooting.

Evaluate the Problem VM

If a certain virtual machine is not meeting standards, the first step should be evaluating it closely to determine where performance is lagging. There are several tools designed for this purpose, including Foglight and VMmark.

Try Resource Throttling

When you’ve identified the virtual machine that is not performing as well as it should, you might want to try resource throttling, also known as VM resource management. This is when the technician allocates a certain amount of memory, CPU and bandwidth for each machine in order to determine if a particular resource is causing the problem.

Keep a Log

As you begin troubleshooting a virtualization issue, write down each step you take so you know what’s been done and the results of your actions. This will help to identify the problem through process of elimination, and will give you documentation that you can share with other IT specialists if you end up needing external help. This includes error messages — capture these verbatim or as screen shots.

Recycle

It’s the oldest trick in any IT specialist’s tool kit. The first time an app hiccups, close it and reopen it. The second time, shut off the device and turn it back on again. If you’re on a PC/laptop, try restarting in safe mode and seeing if that changes your luck. Don’t forget to check all cables to and from all machines and peripherals to ensure that everything is connected as it should be.

Check for Updates

If it’s a program-specific problem you’re experiencing, check to see if any updates are available. In many cases, updates will address any previous bugs that could have impacted performance or security — and the new releases often perform better or faster than their predecessors.

Check for Commitment Issues

Does the server have access to dedicated resources for CPU and memory? Are resources overcommitted in the virtualized environment? Answering these questions will often resolve any VM performance issues.

Zero in on Viruses

Viruses, malware, and spyware can wreak havoc on a virtual network. Use a reputable anti-virus tool to scan for any malicious programs.

Scale the Firewall

Firewalls are great for keeping hackers at bay, but not always so great for running software smoothly. If there’s a personal firewall in play, it may interfere with the programs in your virtual environment. Check the settings for the firewall to ensure that they’re not blocking the software from operating.

Take it to the Web

Every IT pro knows that the most common virtualization problems can be solved using the greatest communication network ever invented by humans. Most VM problems have existed, been diagnosed and have been resolved by intrepid explorers before you. And remember the biggest rule of troubleshooting etiquette: if you post a problem in a Web forum and you find a solution, update the forum with your solution.

Rubber Ducky, You’re the One

This tactic is especially handy for programmers and networkers, but the concept is applicable to real-world problems outside of IT. Find an inanimate object (traditionally a rubber ducky, but anything can work — maybe humans interact well with smiling faces?), anthropomorphize it, befriend it and literally explain the problem in the simplest terms you can manage. This causes you to do a few new things: you’re looking at the issue with fresh eyes and are therefore more likely to notice things you hadn’t before; the verbal cues cause you to engage language-processing centers of your brain, helping you to think differently about your approaches; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll be calmer. After all, it isn’t the duck’s fault for not knowing anything about technology. How can you get angry at an inanimate rubber duck? Allow its friendly face to soothe your frayed wits.

Investigate the “New Kids on the Block”

Have you recently installed or changed any hardware or software? If so, it could be interfering with other systems on the machine or network. Try uninstalling any new software programs or hardware peripherals and see if performance returns to normal. Same goes for any recent settings changes. Many software vendors also offer patches that correct problems with their programs, so be sure to check their websites.

Managing virtualized environments can be complex. When things don’t work as they should, quick and effective troubleshooting is key. By using the above checklist as a starting point, you’ll be well on your way to diagnosing and resolving the issue, and restoring smooth, fast operations.