Virtualization Technology News and Information
Vizioncore: Backup and Control for VMWare ESX

VirtualStrategy Magazine interviews Vizioncore's President, David Bieneman, about their VMware products.  The company, as most of you know, creates software tools to help ease the management of VMware, Citrix, and Terminal Server systems.


VSM: What led you to design a product for VMware? What need did you see in the market?

DB: We were helping clients virtualize their infrastructure in a small consulting engagement in northern Illinois. We maintain ESX servers and some Citrix for those clients, which gives us hands-on experience with the products. We took what we learned from our headaches like backing the virtual servers up, monitoring performance over time, and wrote a script to fix the problems onsite.

The customer liked that we fixed the problem, but when they wanted to dig their hands in and make a change, they’d have to call us, because the didn’t understand scripting. That wasn’t their primary knowledge base. They understood how to manage the box, but not the details of scripting.

We took what worked in the script and moved it to the development side of our business. When we see a problem over and over again, we have our development team turn those scripts into graphical applications that solve the problem. Then we don’t have to replicate ourselves thousands of times, and customers don’t have to call us in all the time for something they should be able to fix.

Our products have been designed by VMware consultants and system administrators. For VMware, these products solve problems like hot backup, change control, disaster recovery, end of life management and performance monitoring, and control for those that run Citrix or
Terminal Services on VMware.

We saw that when the resellers kept going in to make scripting fixes they were solving the problems, but then there were so many moving parts. Every ESX server has so many scripts and patches on them that if something breaks, you might not know where to look to fix it.

Our software took all the little scripts and fixes and turned them into a single piece of software that can be installed on the central console. Then the central graphical console is the administration point, and it can touch all the ESX servers and group all the operations. You can go to one spot to look, not have to figure out where the problem is.

The value proposition for VMware consultants, resellers and end users is our "been there, done that" onsite experience, which we bring to them through our software and our desire to constantly listen for recommendations on what they need to get the job done and satisfy their clients' requirements.

VSM: What does the product do?

DB: esxRanger performs hot backups of VMware ESX Servers, with error checking and logging, all from a Windows console. You can back up production servers in the middle of the day, take point in time backups prior to applying a service pack or application installation, send virtual machine .DSK files across T1 lines to remote locations for disaster recovery and archive servers for end of life management. There is a set of safety checks that separate it from any scripts out there.

esxRanger can also restore VMs to an ESX Server, commit VM guest .REDO logs from a Windows host, view VMFS partitions, VMFS free space and files in VMFS partitions, all from Windows. We have even been successful in dramatically reducing the CPU utilization on the ESX console operating system by integrating our code into a set of custom FPGA's to perform the compression.

esxRanger has an optional feature that can stop services on Windows guests just prior to kicking off the backup; we start them up seconds to minutes later so downtime is at a minimum. This
short down time ensures closed files in the guest OS. It is an option for administrators who want to ensure that a specific application’s files are closed prior to the backup.

VSM: What hardware platforms are supported?

DB: We support ESX Server on IBM, HP and Dell. In a few instances we have used our own custom designed hardware with success, as our own appliance can run ESX Server.

VSM: Does esxRanger integrate with VirtualCenter?

DB: We have a new version coming out that will integrate with VirtualCenter’s SDK to provide information to our product and to the user on the screen. The current version uses the default VM COM component of VMware ESX server, and it will continue to do so.

When we add VirtualCenter integration to our product, if something stops working on the VirtualCenter side – the database is down, or the server is down – our backups and performance monitoring still won’t fail. We’ll fall back to the VM COM communication method.

We’ll continue to support both. While customers might use our VirtualCenter integration, because it might be faster and might grab data more easily from each ESX server, they’ll always be able to fall back to the VM COM method. The product will still work even without VirtualCenter.

Today you could use esxRanger to copy a running VM and deploy it to another ESX Server. You would have to run a post operation like "sysprep" to give the machine a unique personality, but we could be the duplication tool in an ESX Server shop.

VSM: Can you talk about the product that does performance monitoring?

DB: Our vc-iMonitor product does performance monitoring and control. It was originally designed to help multiple users running on a Citrix server using multiple processes not clobber each other. If there is a problem with contention you can tell what’s happening down to the process and user level.

We have used that product to successfully run small organizations using Citrix and Terminal Services on VMware. If you wanted to try to put test platforms or small departments or silos of Citrix or Terminal Services on VMware today, you would have some definite performance issues and probably use it only for a testing platform. vc-iMonitor allows us to control the processes a little more granularly. If one process is taking the resources we can tone it down so the other users don’t feel a big hit. It’s like inside-the-operating-system process load balancing.

We’re adding special VMware counters into vc-iMonitor that aren’t available from VirtualCenter or from the management user interface. The counters are available from the Linux prompt, so you would have to go to the Linux prompt of each ESX server today to view these counters. And you’re only viewing them real-time, you don’t get any historical or line graphs.

If you’re looking at numbers and values and trying to make sense of them across 15 or 20 ESX servers, that’s a big job. Especially because now with KVM you only have one screen up in front of you at one time, you don’t have 15 or 20 monitors.

In vc-iMonitor we’ve integrated code that goes to each ESX server and pulls important VM kernel values back to the graphical Windows screen. It can show you in real time what’s happening across a broad range of servers, so you can get a feel right then of what your infrastructure is like and how the VM kernel is able to schedule the machines and resources.

Check out the entire interview, here.  Many more questions and answers are given.


Published Tuesday, August 15, 2006 6:49 AM by David Marshall
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