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Managing virtual machines

Quoting from TechWorld

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Existing server-monitoring tools are increasingly aware of virtual servers, but most aren't yet sophisticated enough to interpret feedback in a virtual machine context -- much less act on it. "They don't take into account the particulars of virtual machines," says Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research.

For example, a virtual machine may be running at 100 per cent utilisation but using only a fraction of the underlying server's resources. "Some of the things you monitor no longer mean the same thing," Kuzmack says.

"It would be nice if all of our standard tools worked in the virtual space, but they don't, and it doesn't look like they're going to anytime soon," says Norm Fjeldheim, CIO at Qualcomm. He is evaluating tools targeted at virtual machine management to fill the gap.

For many organisations, identifying the root cause of virtual server problems and rectifying them remains largely a manual process. As the number of virtual machines in the data centre increases, solving those problems in an automated way becomes more urgent.

Performance monitoring is just one aspect of virtual machine management. Other tasks include optimising the mix of virtual machines that should reside on each physical server to achieve the best possible performance; automating virtual machine provisioning, load balancing, patch management, configuration management and fail-over; and enabling policy-based orchestration to automatically trigger the appropriate responses to events.

For some functions, such as patch management, existing tools work fine, says Paul Poppleton, a Qualcomm senior staff engineer. In other areas, he says, "we're getting the best wins on the tools that take into account the fact that systems are virtualised."

Even organisations just starting virtual server projects can quickly run into management challenges. Once the decision is made to introduce virtual servers, the numbers can increase much more rapidly than expected because it becomes easier to procure new servers, says Poppleton. "Tack on 20 per cent or 30 per cent to what you planned on for growth, because it can really take off on you," he warns. Qualcomm has 1,280 VMware ESX Server virtual machines companywide that run a mix of Windows and Linux. About 850 virtual machines are running in Qualcomm's data centre, with each physical server hosting an average of 10 virtual machines.

Even fine-tuning the performance for as few as 10 virtual machines can be a challenge. "One place where we've had trouble is trying to manage the resources on a single physical host," says Poppleton. VMware's VirtualCenter 2 management software, which Qualcomm is beta-testing, should help with that, he says. The software is expected to ship in the first half of this year.

Finding the right tool

Kuzmack is also beta-testing Virtual-Center 2. One component, Data Resource Scheduler, aggregates servers into pools that can be assigned to groups and managed through policies that the administrator creates. "We can take a group of physical servers and carve them up into resource pools where we can set high-level and low-level limits and resource guarantees," he says. Another feature, Distributed Availability Service, automatically moves virtual machines to a new physical server and restarts them after a physical server fails.

Kuzmack is also working on basic monitoring. He wants to integrate VMware's VirtualCenter control software with Gannett's Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) software. Other than basic performance metrics, "we haven't determined what we want to expose to the MOM console yet," he says.

Jim Ni, senior technical product manager at Microsoft, says the company is working on adding more virtual machine management capabilities to its management tools, but it's not there quite yet. For example, Systems Management Server can manage physical machine image libraries but can't differentiate between an image for a physical machine and a virtual machine image.

Poppleton is using VirtualCenter but says he also needs more cross-platform tools. "Right now, we're a VMware shop, but in the future that may not be true," he says. He's considering using VirtualIQ, a virtual machine management tool suite being developed by ToutVirtual. It supports automated provisioning, capacity management and security. He's also looking at tools for "grid-style management of physical and virtual systems," such as Platform Computing's VM Orchestrator. VMO optimises capacity by dynamically allocating and controlling virtual machine resources and utilisation levels based on user- defined policies.

Both ToutVirtual and Platform Computing currently support VMware, but both have also announced plans to support Microsoft Virtual Server and the open-source Xen virtual machine monitor. In the interim, Poppleton's staff has had to develop some of its own tools.

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Read the entire article, here.

Published Friday, June 02, 2006 10:17 AM by David Marshall
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