VKernel Capacity Tools Aim to Balance Performance, Cost

by ServerWatch Staff

Virtualization startup looks to help administrators manage capacity as it prepares to take on industry heavyweights.

When it comes to servers and storage resources operating in a virtualized environment, enterprises often face a balancing act.

On the one hand, if virtual machines aren't provisioned with adequate resources, performance can flag. Then again, the costs of operating the virtual machines can get out of hand if they are over-allocated.

To help enterprises find that happy middle ground, Andover, Mass.-based VKernel is touting an application suite for virtualization administrators and directors to effectively plan and manage capacity.

"This sharing of resources provides tremendous flexibility and efficiencies," said Bryan Semple, VKernel's chief marketing officer. "However, it also introduces the requirement to actually do capacity planning correctly."

And that is the central pain point VKernel aims to alleviate with its vOperations Suite, released earlier this month in version 3.5. The vOperations Suite, or vOPS, consists of four tools aimed at helping system administrators manage virtualized data centers and cloud computing environments: a performance analyzer, capacity manger, optimizer and reporting and chargeback solution.

Lately, VKernel has been building out its support for Hyper-V, which it sees as a "fast-growing" alternative to VMware in the virtualization space. Last month, VKernel released expanded versions of its Hyper-V capacity analyzer and chargeback products.

"We see significantly more activity around Hyper-V than we did last year," Semple said, citing close to 100-percent year-over-year growth that can be attributed to a small number of businesses. "What is meaningful is that Hyper-V is now getting traction with real customers and real deployments, so we expect it to start to contribute."

Semple also noted that a narrow focus on hypervisor deployments as a measure of customer penetration can obscure the overall picture. "[M]ost people forget Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager is the real heavyweight in this space," he said, pointing out that the software giant's SCOM covers both physical and virtual deployments, amounting to a far larger footprint than vCenter.

VKernel got its start in 2007 as a startup built around a chargeback product. The assumption was that chargeback was fast on its way to becoming an essential ingredient of the burgeoning virtualization and cloud computing markets. In hindsight, Semple acknowledged that VKernel was too early to the market with its chargeback offering, and since the company pivoted to focus chiefly on capacity and performance management, those products have been its best sellers.

In a small sense, that is beginning to change, according to Semple.

"The time is right now for chargeback to take a more active role, as self-service portals, VM sprawl and private clouds all cause virtualization administrators to be concerned about costs," he said. "So while we will never be known as a chargeback vendor, it is nice to see one of our original products get some traction."

Surveying the landscape of the industry, VKernel identifies two trends at opposing ends of the spectrum taking shape. On the one hand, an ever-increasing capacity running in ratio to Moore's law will consolidate greater volumes of applications within a single, ultra-powerful box, putting a premium on fault tolerance. Then again, the low cost and relative ease with which virtual machines can be deployed is putting substantial computing power in the hands of small operations that then become potential clients for a virtualization performance and capacity management player, like VKernel.

VKernel sells its vOperations Suite directly and through a global partner network, charging an annual licensing fee on a per-socket basis.

At the moment, VKernel is finding itself in competition with the company that ushered in the very revolution on which its business is built: VMware. That's because with the recent announcement that it would bundle vCenter Operations and CapacityIQ, the virtualization giant is taking dead aim at the capacity management space VKernel occupies. That has also been a boon for educating the marketplace and driving awareness, which had been one of VKernel's chief obstacles in its first couple years.

"From 2008 to 2010, we were somewhat alone talking to people about the impact of capacity on both performance and costs," Semple said. "Not everyone realized the issue, although they knew they had performance problems and felt they were over-allocating resources."

While head-to-head competition with VMware seems a bit like a David-Goliath proposition, Semple noted that the hypervisor market is diversifying, with Microsoft and other competitors competing aggressively for share in a virtualization environment that is growing increasingly "heterogeneous." In that spirit, VKernel is actively considering adding support for additional hypervisors.

"VMware has really helped us with market education," Semple said. "They are a worthy competitor, but with our nimbleness and quick innovation cycles, one we feel comfortable taking on."

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Jun 21st 2011
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