The Virtualization Room

October 20, 2008  9:01 AM

Defining a nomenclature for storage allocations

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

The relationship between the virtualization administrator and storage administrator can sometimes be less than cordial. Yet it can become less contentious when approached in a certain manner. One way that administrators can work closer with storage teams is to identify a nomenclature for shared storage resources in the virtual environment. This is critical because as virtual environments grow, storage management becomes an extremely important part of a successful implementation.

In larger environments where the storage and virtualization server teams are separate groups, there are a number of ways to organize a standardized nomenclature of a logical unit number (LUN). For example, the virtualization admin may only care about the size of the LUN and possibly the tier of performance. The storage administrator is concerned about those factors and more. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the process of getting down to details in the storage environment is critically important as the infrastructure grows. As time goes on, we simply can’t refer to the “500 GB LUN” or “the last one you gave me” anymore.

Recently I had an opportunity to work with an entirely different storage environment than I’m used to. As can be expected, this situation arose, but I perceived it as a great time to hammer out a crude yet effective specification for a LUN nomenclature. The situation involved a VMware environment connected to a Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) with a number of storage devices presenting disks to the VM environment. The basic objective of having a standardized nomenclature is so both parties can determine which LUNs are available and the basic information present on them. The figure below shows the end result of this ad-hoc policy:
LUN Name Format
Determining a nomenclature for storage allocations will vary widely for different environments. Designations such as which tier the storage lies upon, whether it is developmental or live system storage, or which virtualization cluster owns the storage can all be elements of the process. Furthermore, if you’re dealing with a storage management system, the requirements for the name of the storage system may be different than the directly attached storage system in the example above. The end result for all parties involved is a far more orderly process with a much better understanding of how the storage is allocated in the virtual environment. In addition, the virtualization team will be able to more clearly communicate with the storage team about specific resources in use.

October 16, 2008  2:06 PM

SolarWinds offers free virtual machine and network monitoring tool

Bridget Botelho Profile: Bridget Botelho

Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds, a provider of downloadable network management software, has released a free tool to monitor the performance of VMware Inc. virtual environments.

The new tool, SolarWinds VM Monitor, and an update to its flagship Orion Network Performance Monitor (NPM) gives IT a way to manage and monitor their virtual machines (VM).

SolarWinds VM Monitor is operated through a desktop dashboard that continuously monitors a VMware ESX server and the associated VMs by providing real-time monitoring of ESX health indicators.

According to SolarWinds, many of the affordable network management solutions on the market don’t extend monitoring to performance and availability of VMs, potentially impacting critical business services including e-mail, web applications, and ERP.

This appears to be a big issue in data centers, as more than 50,000 customers, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, use products from 10 year old SolarWinds to monitor and manage their networks, according to Kenny Van Zant, chief product strategist at the company.

It makes sense for companies like SolarWinds to extend their capabilities into virtual environments because virtualization adoption is growly rapidly; worldwide virtualization license shipments in the second quarter of 2008 increased 53% year over year, compared to a 72% year-over-year increase the previous quarter, according to Framingham, Mass.-based IDC’s new Worldwide Quarterly Server Virtualization Tracker released October 16.

VMware holds the top position in the virtualization market with 78% revenue share in the second quarter of this year, the Server Virtualization Tracker showed.

In addition to SolarWinds software and the VMware ESX Virtual Infrastructure 3’s built-in monitoring tools, there is a large selection of third-party applications – both free and for a price – that offer performance management capabilities, including Nagios, Vizioncore vCharter Pro, eG VM Monitor Veeam Reporter, Hyperic HQ and others.

SolarWinds’ free tool, available for download today, makes it easy to:

• Quickly check the health of a single VMware ESX server by monitoring CPU and memory utilization, number of VMs configured and running, and more

• View detailed individual VM health statistics including VM name, IP address, VM state, as well as processor, memory and disk usage.

• Prevent performance degradation by checking threshold specific indicators to remediate issues.

Of course, like most free software, there is a better version of it that isn’t free.

To monitor a full VMware virtual environment, the improved version of Orion Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is the way to go, according to SolarWinds. NPM gives network engineers a way to monitor thousands of VMware ESX servers, as well as associated VM instances, and VMware VirtualCenter.

With this update, Orion NPM can read host MIB information from each VMware ESX server and its corresponding VMs, detailing statistics like CPU utilization, memory utilization, disk usage, and much more. The latest release also offers ESX-specific alerts and reports. Orion Network Performance Monitor offers:

• Monitoring and analysis of in-depth network performance metrics for routers, switches, physical servers, ESX servers, virtual machines, and any other SNMP-enabled devices in real time

• Do-it-yourself deployment that allows users to be up and running in about an hour

• An intuitive, customizable web interface that supports multiple views including maps and global Top 10 lists

• Alerting for correlated events, sustained conditions, and complex combinations of device states

• Modules to expand monitoring of NetFlow traffic analysis and VoIP performance, wireless devices, applications and servers

SolarWinds’ Orion NPM is available now and pricing starts at $2,475 (USD) for 100 monitored elements including first year maintenance. Orion NPM customers, currently under maintenance, get the 9.1 updates for free.

Users can find more information, tips from SolarWinds company experts as well as peer support and perspectives on Orion NPM, at Thwack, the SolarWinds online community.

Also, on Thursday, October 30, SolarWinds’ Head Geek (their term, not mine), Josh Stephens will host a “Geek Speak” webcast that will look at monitoring ESX-based virtual environments and the challenges associated with them. For more information and to register for the “Monitoring the Virtual Environment – A Technical Perspective on ESX Server Health and Performance Monitoring” event, go to

October 15, 2008  4:13 PM

Out-of-band boot order configuration with Sun xVM VirtualBox

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

The configuration for virtual machine (VM) tasks that involve booting from anything other than the virtual disk can be inconvenient. Sun xVM VirtualBox offers a functionality that allows the boot order to be configured outside of the VM. For VirtualBox guests, the boot order can be configured in the VM’s advanced options. The figure below shows a VM’s configured boot order properties.

Figure 1

The limitation with this configuration is that the settings cannot be accessed through the VirtualBox interface while the VM is running, which makes advanced configuration a little difficult. Further, if the machine is in a saved state but not running, it cannot be configured. The vboxmanage command can perform this same configuration but it still requires offline access to the VM. VMware products have a BIOS for the VM, making configuration similar to that of a physical machine for boot order. With VirtualBox, there is not an accessible BIOS interface for the VM. During the boot process, however, there is a default option to access a boot menu by pressing F12. This functionality is shown below.

Figure 1

By VirtualBox not having a VM BIOS in a conventional sense, all relevant configuration is accessible from the interface. The four standard boot classes of hard disk, network, floppy or optical drive can be configured in the interface as shown above or with the earlier mentioned vboxmanage command. The following command will configure the boot order of the Solaris-Test VM:

vboxmanage modifyvm Solaris-Test -boot1 disk

I’ve mentioned the vboxmanage command before for amazing configuration options from the command line. In the case of boot configurations, virtual media (.ISO and .FLP files) can be configured as well.

Version 2.0.2 of VirtualBox was released on September 12, 2008. More information on Sun xVM VirtualBox can be found in the online user manual at the VirtualBox website.

October 9, 2008  10:24 AM

VMware releases update to VirtualCenter and VMware Converter

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Last week, VMware released VirtualCenter 2.5 Update 3. The release fixes issues with Update 2 (build 104263), which was released in July, before the infamous product expiration issue. In the immediate releases after the problem, a corrected version of Virtual Center was not released.

This update fixes 19 various issues but does not provide any new functionality. Several of the resolved issues involve VMware High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler functionality — in the previous version, various situations prevented the functionality from working correctly.

VMware Converter Enterprise, now on build 62407, also has an update that will correct two minor issues with connecting to a VirtualCenter server for conversions. This is different than the VMware Converter Enterprise standalone edition, which installs on remote systems instead of the VirtualCenter server. The standalone version remains at version 3.0.3 (build 89816).

More information on VirtualCenter 2.5 Update 3 can be found in the release notes on VMware’s website.

October 9, 2008  10:11 AM

VMware vs. Hyper-V: Comparing apples to carrots

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

OK, I had to laugh at this one. A Microsoft blog references an article in which a company that predominantly runs Microsoft applications said that it received a $50,000 quote from VMware to virtualize 16 physical servers to four virtual hosts. It claims that the cost comprised $25,000 in software costs and $25,000 in installation costs. The article also said the company chose Hyper-V instead because it cost only $49 per server. The article didn’t mention anything about hardware costs so presumably the company already had hardware or planned to purchase it separately.

The $50,000 price tag was obviously very high. Most likely the quote was for at least one Enterprise license per server as well as VirtualCenter, which may have come out to $25,000 or so. The company claimed to only have a 10-15% CPU utilization rate on its current servers, so it could have easily gone with only two ESX hosts. However, it is possible that they needed four hosts for Hyper-V.

I have to wonder if the company realized what it would get for $25,000. The VMware option provides very robust and feature-rich Enterprise licenses along with a VirtualCenter management server. Comparing this to Hyper-V is like comparing apples to carrots: They aren’t even in the same family. I also wonder if it thought that all it would need to fork out was $49 per server and thus the whole project was going to cost $196 compared with $50,000. Apparently nobody informed it of the underlying requirement of a Windows Server 2008 license for each Hyper-V server. If the company were instead looking at the recently announced Hyper-V Server 2008, which is free, it missed the fact that ESXi is also free and would not have included licensing costs.

As far as $25,000 in installation costs, that seems extremely high for setting up four ESX hosts and performing physical-to-virtual conversions of existing servers to virtual machines. Without seeing the details of the quote it’s hard to say what the company would have paid for. It apparently had no virtualization experience whatsoever, because if it had, it wouldn’t pay someone to install and configure its servers. Presumably it would still have to pay someone to virtualize its environment on to Hyper-V servers. Unfortunately the article made no mention of those costs.

I have to give the company the benefit of the doubt. Was it merely a victim of someone trying to sell it way more than it needed or did the person who provided the quote not understand the company’s needs? It could have easily gone with ESXi servers for free and paid a reasonable amount to have someone help with the installation. If it wanted more features it could have also gone with one of the ESX Foundation Acceleration kits bundled with VirtualCenter for only $3,600. It’s a shame that the company was quoted such a high price. I know if I saw a price tag like that to virtualize a small environment I would balk at it too. However, while looking at other alternatives I would also ask why the quote was so high and try to understand exactly what the cost entailed. It sounds as if someone were trying to sell the company a bunch of Ferraris when all it really needed was a couple of mini-vans.

So without all the facts all we can do is guess, but this seems to be just another case of comparing apples to carrots in an attempt to exploit the so-called price issue between ESX and Hyper-V that doesn’t exist if you do a fair comparison between the two.

October 8, 2008  10:50 AM

Still mulling over a Greene-less VMware

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

It’s been covered to death, but something about Diane Greene’s ousting from VMware’s top spot still doesn’t sit right with me. Not the ousting itself but the chatter about why. There have been conversations about why she was let go, ranging from EMC’s CEO Joe Tucci wanting greater control of VMware to questions about whether she was more of a technology person and less of a business person. In the end, the appointment of Paul Maritz is the really big news, at least in my not-so-humble opinion.

It goes back to “it’s not what but who you know,” and Maritz knows Microsoft. He knows Ballmer, Gates and every other player there. He was one of the most influential and instrumental executives in Microsoft’s history. His reach is wide when it comes to pulling people into the fold — not necessarily by bringing ex-Microsoft folks in as employees, but rather by having high-level working relationships with all the partners that Microsoft has worked with and that EMC and VMware have worked with or would love to work with. He also knows the PC Revolution firsthand, having seen the rise and fall of Novell’s NetWare, Banyan’s VINES and the host of minis and mains that these replaced, only to be replaced by Windows a few years later.

Tucci also knows Microsoft — EMC’s storage products center around the Microsoft world as much as any other operating system. Exchange data stores, SQL databases, file shares — all of these are EMC’s bread and butter in selling storage to the modern data center. Its software, even though some products compete (like Documentum versus Sharepoint PS), is built around a Windows-centric world.

Then there’s the history — Microsoft knows how to win. It buys what it can’t make on its own, then drowns the competition in price wars and advertising battles. Novell, once Microsoft’s bitter rival for network OS sales, now sells Linux licenses to Microsoft. Netscape is gone and the ghost of its second cousin twice removed, the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox, lives on to take what is really an insignificant chunk of Internet Explorer’s market share. Corel/Novell WordPerfect? Only if you’re working in a huge law firm will you see WP on an enterprise level.

Put these together and the fabled VMware versus Microsoft Hypervisor war starts to look less like an armed conflict between bitter rivals and more like a strategic partnership built through a demonstration of independence. Tucci’s no fool — Maritz is there for the day that the Redmond giant comes knocking. He’s there to build thin but sturdy roads between the two companies. He’s there to forge something like the Citrix/Microsoft alliance, where Citrix is an independent company but still acts in many ways like a subsidiary of Microsoft (or at least an extension). In Martiz’s VMworld keynote speech (not the parts about having “sins to atone for” in his early days of programming for the PC Revolution), he barely mentioned Greene and hardly touched on competition with Microsoft. He’s looking forward to the day when he can do what only Citrix has managed to do so far — preserve independence while under Redmond’s all-seeing eye.

In the end, we’ll see VMware’s VDC-OS as the dominant force in the virtualization space with Hyper-V as an acceptable but lesser alternative, much like Citrix’s MetaFrame/XenApp and Microsoft’s Terminal Services. I think this leaves one question: In the long run, what happens to Citrix now that it’s betting so heavily on Xen and taking on Microsoft and VMware directly in the systems virtualization market?

October 7, 2008  4:26 PM

My favorite schwag item from VMworld 2008

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

As I sat in my cozy office, drinking from a VMware mug, wearing a t-shirt under my dress shirt, saving drafts of a SharePoint training presentation to a 1GB USB stick emblazoned with eG’s logo and watching Jan and Hannah go through their big bag-o-stuff from the conference, I mulled over something … what was the one thing, above all of the other schwag, that I wound up using most? The answer was the lowest-tech item there: Sun’s little black book.

Yup, just a small black notepad. I’ve already filled up ten pages of notes in just around two weeks, and I now carry it with me to all my meetings. I look less rude taking notes on paper than entering them into my Blackberry (the message most people get when they see that: “Is this person note-taking or is he texting?” You tell me!). It fits in whatever bag I carry, whether it’s a notebook case, organizer or nothing at all. It’s better than a USB drive due to the simplicity of “open and write” versus “boot and type.”

So, the Completely Unofficial Best of VMworld Schwag Award (TM, patent-pending, Copyright 2008, all rights reserved) goes to Sun Microsystems for providing such an elegant and simple tool.

Notebook PNG File

October 6, 2008  2:10 PM

Did VMworld 2008 satisfy attendees?

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

While VMworld 2008 left some attendees and contributors to hungry for more from VMware and its partners, others may have a different take on the conference. In this video blog, Rick Vanover offers his opinion on what VMworld offers to attendees and if it is worthwhile to attend.

October 3, 2008  4:38 PM

Take the time to learn direct disk access to a virtual machine

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Recently I had the opportunity to go through a series of tests revolving around the use of a raw disk or dedicated logical unit number (LUN) to a virtual machine. I think that any virtualization administrator should go through the drill. The basic principle is to seamlessly move storage on a storage area network (SAN) from a physical system to a virtual machine. This can accommodate an emergency physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion of a system with large storage, saving costly time on a system conversion.

The experience I reference was a VMware ESX Server and VirtualCenter configuration with Windows Server 2003 systems. With a LUN made available to a physical system, moving that storage over to a virtual machine was actually quite easy and uneventful. There are a few pointers to remember when doing this configuration, namely because the storage is not residing on a virtual machine file system (VMFS) LUN, it will not be eligible for a lot of VMware’s management and high-availability (HA) functionality. This includes Storage VMotion, host-to-host VMotion and HA features for failover onto another host automatically.

Taking the time to become familiar with the process and expected functionality is a worthwhile investment. This is a configuration that may not be something that you foresee using, but it may come in handy. The figure below shows a virtual machine configured with two LUNs made available to the host and assigned to a virtual machine:
Figure 1

One important step is not to add storage as you normally would for a VMFS volume. This will destroy the contents of the drive and make your preserved data unreadable. In the configuration shown below, the drive arrives seamlessly to the guest operating system and will be ready for use. There may be a drive letter change, but that is an easy correction.
Most storage systems and virtualization platforms should be able to support this functionality in some capacity. Taking the time to get the specifics down in your storage environment can avoid any surprises if this configuration is required due to an unplanned migration

October 2, 2008  10:21 AM

EG’s software a hit

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

EG Innovations took a Best of VMworld award for the application and infrastructure management category, and as one of the judges, it’s my pleasure to tell you why … eG gets it, and it gets IT. The “it” the company gets is business. There were a lot of entries in the category, ranging from desktop virtualization management, cloud computing management and traditional system/network management. EG stood out because its product took a real user problem (in the demo, customers who had problems depositing money via a bank website) all the way through the final root cause analysis, and did so in a clear, consistent fashion that was very easy to trace back to the relative obscurity of a Samba process gone haywire on a file server. The company’s service-level agreement (SLA) awareness was elegant, particularly in that a failure to meet an SLA was a source of system alerts. Its mix of agentless and lightweight agents and its ability to manage system alerts in real time was great, akin to many of the others in the category. In the end, the business awareness put eG over the top.

It was deep level, allowing IT staff to react quickly with appropriate (and relevant) technical information at their disposal to solve problems or initiate handoffs between departments if needed. The business view allows IT to conceptualize the impact of a problem or SLA failure, and thus better align itself with the business. The wide array of hosts, services and vendors supported by the product grants a big boon — having one tool to rule them all (LotR jokes are prohibited, thank you). It’s a tool that a seasoned sysadmin and an entrenched CIO can both love, and better yet, both use.

So … on my trademarked poker scale: EG gets a solid nine pokers. It’s hot, like a fireplace poker, and if you get jabbed by it, you will certainly know it!

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