The Virtualization Room

October 29, 2008  10:02 AM

Free virtualization tools for tough economic times

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

Many IT departments feel the squeeze from the current economic crisis and have seen their budgets slashed. When times are tough you must get creative, and the best way to do that is to utilize products that won’t cost you a dime. Can’t afford new ESX licenses right now? Why not recycle some of that older hardware with one of the free hypervisors? Or better yet, take one of your big servers that only runs one application and install ESXi so you can run other applications concurrently. Let’s go over some free products that you can download and use in your VMware environment.

Free hypervisors:
VMware Server – Version 2.0 has lots of new features and can be installed on several versions of Windows, Linux and almost any hardware.

VMware ESXi – The entry-level edition of VMware’s enterprise-class hypervisor; the installable version installs bare metal on a variety of supported and unsupported hardware.

VMware Player – A great tool for starting up virtual machines without installing a full hypervisor on your system.

Free appliances:
The VMware appliance marketplace has hundreds of free appliances that span a variety of categories. Appliances range from simple firewalls to enterprise monitoring systems to full-blown Web and database packages (LAMP). You can run these appliances with VMware Player or import them into ESX/Server/Workstation and run them there.

Free management and reporting tools:
Embotics v-Scout – A free, agentless tool for tracking and reporting on virtual machines in VMware VirtualCenter-enabled environments.

Hyper-9 – This soon-to-be-released free search-based reporting tool is a great addition to every administrator’s toolbox. Watch for its release around the end of the year. If you are interested in participating in a beta version of this tool, drop me an email. Not all beta requests will be approved and the company is looking for feedback if you do participate.

RVTools – A handy little tool that displays a multitude of information about your virtual machines.

Solarwinds VM Monitor – A free management tool that monitors ESX hosts and virtual machines.

Snaphunter and Snapalert – Utilities that can report all running snapshots on ESX hosts, including name, size and date. They can also automatically email reports and optionally commit snapshots.

Visio Stencils – Some free Visio stencils from Veeam, VMGuru and the Visio Café to help you document your environment.

VMotion Info – A free utility that gathers system and CPU information from your hosts and puts it in a single overview to check for VMotion compatibility.

VM ExplorerA management tool that eases management, backup and disaster recovery tasks in your VMware ESX Server environment.

MCS StorageView – A utility that displays all of the logical partitions, operating systems, capacity, free space and percent free of all virtual machines on ESX 3.x or Virtual Center 2.x .

ESX HealthCheck – A script that collects configuration information and other data for ESX hosts and generates a report in HTML format.

Free administration tools:
Putty – A must-have utility for every administrator to remotely SSH into their ESX hosts.

Veeam FastSCP – A great SSH file transfer utility application.

WinSCP – Another speedy SSH file transfer utility application.

KS QuickConfig – Designed to reduce the time needed to deploy and configure VMware ESX servers as well as eliminate inconsistencies that can arise with manual operations.

VP Snapper – A free utility that lets you revert to multiple VM snapshots at once rather than one-by-one.

VMware Converter – VMware’s free application that lets you perform physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual operations.

vmCDconnected – A handy utility that scans all virtual machines in your infrastructure and shows if they have a CD connected to any of them. After scanning you can disconnect all of the CDs with a click of a button.

CPU Identification Utility – VMware’s free utility that displays CPU features for VMotion compatibility, EVC and 64-bit VMware support.

VMTS Patch Manager – A great ESX host-patching application for those who don’t have Update Manager.

Free backup utilities:
VISBU – A free backup utility that runs from the Service Console and provides VMDK-level backups of any VM in storage that is accessible by the host.

VM Backup Script – A backup script to perform hot backups of your virtual machines.

Free storage utilities:
Openfiler – A free, open source, browser-based storage appliance that supports NFS and iSCSI. It can be downloaded as an ISO file to install on a server or as a VMware appliance to import to an ESX host. A great way to get more shared disk in your environment by turning physical servers into network-attached storage servers or turning the local disk on your ESX hosts into shared disk when using the appliance.

Xtravirt Virtual SAN – A free solution that turns local disk space on your ESX hosts into shared VMFS volumes to avoid purchasing costly storage area network disk space.

Free security tools:
Tripwire ConfigCheck – A free utility that rapidly assesses the security of VMware ESX 3.0 and 3.5 hypervisor configurations compared to the VMware Infrastructure 3 Security Hardening guidelines.

Configuresoft Compliance Checker – A free tool that provides a real-time compliance check that can analyze multiple VMware ESX host servers at a time. Also provides detailed compliance checks against both the VMware Hardening Guidelines and the CIS benchmarks for ESX.

If you know of any other free tools that you use in your VMware environment, feel free to list them in the comments section of this post.

October 23, 2008  1:51 PM

An eggceptional virtualization analogy

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

I’m always looking for ways to explain virtualization to the nontechnical people in my life, and just came across a really good analogy, courtesy of Luke Kanies, the author of Puppet system administration tool:

A virtual machine is to the host as an egg is to the carton.

Actually, this is what Kanies really said:

The truth is that [VM] images make a lot of things a lot easier, but when it all comes down to it, VMWare is great for managing the outside of a box. I’ve been told this is a horrible analogy, but the way I think of it is, all of these virtual machine systems — they’re really good at producing and managing eggs, you know these self contained, sealed eggs of functionality. But they’re not very good about getting inside the system. They can’t get inside the egg and manage what’s going on there.

That’s so true. For now, VMware doesn’t do anything to help you get at the whites (the OS) or the yolk (the application), to say nothing of the yucky membrane between the two.

Much like egg cartons and their contents, virtualization doesn’t discriminate on the basis of color: You can have brown eggs (Linux), white eggs (Windows), green eggs (Solaris) — but you can’t have ham. Nor can you have ostrich eggs (z/OS) or goose eggs (Unix) — they just wouldn’t fit in the carton.

I also like this analogy because of the implicit 12:1 egg-to-carton consolidation ratio. Although, from what I’ve been hearing, most folks have graduated from regular cartons and moved on to those scary 5X6 trays.

large egg tray

Props to the Lone (not Lonely) Sysadmin, Bob Plankers, for pointing out this article and who, incidentally, really likes Puppet.

October 23, 2008  11:01 AM

The first 45 days of using the virtual machine expiration date

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

In prior posts, I mentioned that determining how the expiration of a virtual machine (VM) will be managed and implemented is just as important as deciding to have an expiration date. I have been using Emobtics V-Scout since its release in early September of this year, and it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get started with a VM’s expiration date for free.

Depending on the technology climate, the concept of a VM’s expiration date may or may not be received well by internal IT teams such as developers. I have taken the stance that test-and-development systems should have an expiration date. The expiration date can be extended, of course, but it is more important that it is a defined process. Certain VMs will not have an expiration date, such as a QA environment for a live system. This can be managed in the same fashion as well.

In my experience thus far, I’ve found that the process makes the requesting development teams a little more aware of the system footprint. There has been little resistance to the concept of an expiration date, and it is well communicated from the virtualization team to the requesting groups. Using V-Scout, the procedural steps are to define the owner of the VM as well as the expiration date. When a VM is provided to the requesting group, I generate the V-Scout inventory report. The inventory report is then saved and sent to the requesting group as a way to clearly identify the definition of the VM in the virtual environment. The V-Scout inventory report comes with information about the operating system version, amount of memory, owner information and email address, expiration date as well as other information. With this information, the report adds an element of service credibility to the virtualization administrator.

Since I have been using the expiration date, the requesters of virtual machines have been proactive in letting me know that the VM needs to be extended in duration. I don’t mind accommodating that request, as I’m trying to avoid a long list of systems that in four years nobody remembers anything about. This proactive request for an extension is very welcome and stems from a few other small practice issues that accompany the VM expiration date. The most noticeable of this is an automatically scheduled email that reminds the requester that the VM is due to expire in one week. The other part of that is a scheduled task in VMware VirtualCenter to change the power state of the VM due to expire. Lastly, there is another scheduled email that reminds me to remove the VM from the virtual environment storage and Windows Active Directory.

These small practice points with the use of a tool that fits your needs allows for an expiration date to be implemented without using more expensive lifecycle or lab management products. V-Scout is a free download from the Embotics website.

October 21, 2008  8:25 PM

VMware enterprise license agreements stall

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

Bucking market trends, VMware posted “another solid quarter,” said CEO Paul Maritz on a conference call with investors, with revenues of $472 million for the third quarter of 2008. That represents an increase of 32% over the third quarter in 2007, which sent the stock soaring over 20% in after-hours trading.

But whatever growth the sales team managed to eke out, it wasn’t because of increased enterprise license agreements (ELAs), which grant customers the right to deploy unlimited VMware licenses across an organization. Instead, customers have turned their backs on those.

“The trend that we’ve seen is that customers that aren’t necessarily ready to pull the trigger on an ELA, but still have needs for their planned deployment,” said Mark Peek, VMware’s CFO. “So they make a smaller transactional purchase,” he said.

In fact, Maritz said that beginning in Q208 VMware had seen hesitancy concerning ELAs, although most of its customers had come around. Asked if customers were “dropping out” of ELA discussions, Maritz responded that discussions were “rolling from quarter to quarter.” Of the ELA deals that slipped from Q208, “we were able to close 90% of those deals in Q3,” Maritz said.

How does VMware explain its customers’ reticence? Competition from Microsoft or the economy? The latter, Maritz said. This fall, “uncertainty set in in a big way. Customers are adopting a buy-as-they-go approach instead of [purchasing] for the long term with an ELA,” he explained.

Microsoft’s entry into the market, meanwhile, has barely registered. “We did not see any major losses to Microsoft. We did see a couple of customers indulge in bake-offs. But by and large, those worked to our favor,” Maritz said. In short, “Microsoft is still behind in terms of product roadmap, and I don’t see them catching up until the next 12 to 24 months.”

Whatever the competitive pressures, Maritz remained cautiously optimistic about VMware’s financial prospects. “Virtualization remains at the top of [companies’] priorities going forward because it can bring levels of efficiency only more important in the forthcoming economic environment,” he said. “I expect VMware will be one of the companies that weathers this storm well, and we will emerge from it stronger and able to take advantage of new opportunities,” he said.

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?

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