What's the best way to manage your virtual server environment?
If you work in a large enterprise, then you can use a management system supplied by your hypervisor vendor: VMware, Microsoft, Red Hat or Citrix, probably.
But what if you work in a smaller organization, with a small budget and you need a single management product that will provide everything from basic information about how many virtual machines you are running to the kind of control you need to implement a private cloud?
With server virtualization technology now firmly in the IT mainstream, an increasing number of third-party vendors are catering to the virtualization needs of SMEs. And since VMware has the lion's share of the server virtualization market, it's not overly surprising that many are concentrating their efforts on managing VMware's virtualization system.
One example is Texas-based Solarwinds. On Tuesday, the company released a rather unimaginatively named virtualization management product called Virtualization Manager. The software is primarily aimed at SMEs with up to 50 virtual machines (although it can be scaled up to manage up to 10,000, the company said), and it is based on software acquired when Solarwinds bought Hyper9, another Texas-based software maker, back in January 2011.
Why is it worth a closer look? One reason is that it doesn't cost the earth: at $3,000 for up to 50 VMs, the software isn't exactly going to break the bank of any company embarking on a strategy of server virtualization.
Another reason is that despite the price, Virtualization Manager offers far more functionality than a premium management system like Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager, or VMware's own vCenter, Jonathan Reeve, Solarwinds' senior director of product management, said, dismissing both of these as "basic."
Is Reeve right? Some of the features that Virtualization Manager offers to server virtualization debutantes dipping a toe in the water are pretty basic, too. For example, the software can help answer questions like, how many virtual machines they actually have, which ones are orphans, and what storage resources are they using -- allowing them to control their virtual environments as they grow and prevent the dreaded virtual machine sprawl. To that extent, the product hardly sets the server virtualization world on fire.
But the features aimed at organizations more heavily committed to virtualization technologies and perhaps ready to implement and manage some sort of private cloud are certainly worth a closer look.
One of these is designed to map dependencies and perform forensic troubleshooting and historic problem analysis. If you can't work out quite what that means, don't worry: Some smart marketing person coined the name "Time Travel" for this feature, which makes it (marginally) easier to grasp. The idea is that it can create a "heat map" of where problems occurred in the past so you can play virtualization detective and see where things went wrong. "Say you were vMotioning some VMs and you ran in to performance problems, and you want to take a closer look at what happened. With Time Travel, you can take a look at which VMs were on a particular host at the time, where the I/O bottleneck was, and what caused the bottleneck," explained Reeve. "Without drilling down into log files this is very hard to do (without Time Travel) right now."
Time Travel works by tapping in to information that Virtual Manager collects from different sources including VMware's vCentre, and makes use of Virtual Manager's own search engine to help organize the information. It also uses this to carry out performance analytics and charting.
Other interesting features include:
- Server capacity planning to help ensure virtualization hosts are used efficiently and applications have adequate resources to run
- Storage and network I/O capacity planning to help prepare for new hardware purchases or investigate public cloud options
- Tools to help the IT department act more like an internal cloud provider
This last feature is designed to help tackle the problem of how to carry out "showbacks" or chargebacks in a virtual environment, said Reeve. "Virtual Manager enables companies to show departments how many resources they are using and ultimately to charge them based on the resources they consume."
Solarwinds supplies Virtualization Manager as a VMware virtual appliance imported into the VMware environment, and it can be up and running in less than an hour, Reeve said. It is accessed as a vSphere plugin, so management tasks can be performed from the vCenter inventory. Alternatively, it can be accessed using a web interface, which could be handy in situations where a vCenter client is not available.
Whether Virtual Manager succeeds in the marketplace remains to be seen. Good virtualization management is vital, and to the extent that Virtual Manager -- and products like it -- provides low-cost, feature-rich enhancements to VMware's own server virtualization management software, it is certainly to be applauded.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.