The Virtualization Room

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!

October 2, 2008  9:45 AM

On the other side of VMworld ‘08

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

I’ll keep it short: It was a great conference, but mostly for the networking and meetings. I’ll take the negative nelly role here and say outright that when it came to the products, I wasn’t too impressed, wasn’t too wowed and wasn’t too giddy. I’ve seen a lot of great announcements, heard a lot of great talk and definitely met a lot of great people, but I haven’t seen much else that I’m really going “Wow!” over. The Cisco announcement has been a year in the coming. We heard about it at last year’s conference, and it’s still not fully released. ESX 4 … wasn’t that demo-ed last year? VDC-OS? Show me a product. I’ve sat through press briefings, product announcement, labs and seminar after seminar, and I keep coming back to those Wendy’s commercials from the ’80s … Where’s the Beef?

NEC’s got me piqued. It seems ready to re-enter the American market in a big way, reversing its trend of avoiding the U.S. as a full-systems seller like we all had monkey pox. The company also seems to have the best end-to-end VDI solution out there, extending VMware’s product on its own hardware, with multimedia and USB capabilities.

Cisco’s got me curious. I’m hoping for a product launch soon so I can see the inside of this new plug-in networking module architecture. I’m not holding my breath, however, because this has been in the pipe for a long time without much substance. True, the VMware virtual switches we all know and love today were originally co-designed with Cisco, but that just makes me wonder why there hasn’t been a formal product on the market before now.

On to the cloud. As I told the incomparable John Troyer in the podcast Andrew Kutz and I did … if your product is vapor, don’t call it cloud. Show me a Web OS client that can run virtualized apps. Show me federation over the Web with cloud services that integrate with internal services. Show me something!

The glitz was top notch. The glam was top notch. The parties — I think you see where this is going. Long story short, this conference was one about maintenance mode rather than being unveiling anything major, but it sure was fun.

September 30, 2008  10:05 AM

VDI planning primer on DHCP scope options

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Fellow virtualization expert Andrew Kutz has argued that future virtual desktop infrastructure technologies (VDI) need to lose the desktop to truly advance VDI technology, and I agree. But until that time, we have to deal with VDI as it exists today. And that means accepting certain hurdles, which means accepting additional support requirements that today’s VDI poses. Let’s consider devices and their support requirements.The key to determining how virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) devices interact with their connection broker is to identify the networking configuration. VDI devices use dynamic host control protocol (DHCP) scope options to get their configurations to the device that reflects where they go for the connection. Let’s dive into how the DHCP options are important to a VDI solution.

For starters, a DHCP scope option is a configuration that is defined on a networking server such as Windows Server’s DHCP server role. Traditional configurations for PCs and servers would have DHCP options such as subnet mask, default gateway and domain name server. VDI, however, allows the full range of DHCP scope options to be used. There are numerous scope options available for DHCP that are delivered to the requesting device in the acknowledgment message (DHCPACK), which is sent after the DHCP request message.

DHCP scope options vary by VDI device. Take for example the SunRay series of VDI devices. For VDI solutions in VMware implementations, the technology requires that at least DHCP options 49 and 66 are configured for connection to the Virtual Desktop Connector agent. Option 49 is for an X11 server window manager and 66 is a trivial file transfer protocol (TFTP) server for VDI device configuration files.

Beyond basic configuration, it may be worth tweaking some other network options based on the architecture of the VDI implementation. What has particularly caught my attention is a blog post by Sun’s Thin Client and Server Based Computing group, which points out that some environments may need to configure the maximum transmission unit (MTU) of network packets. This can also be assigned by DHCP and is of particular importance if the VDI implementation is to be a remote site with limited bandwidth. The default MTU of most configurations is around 1,500 bytes, yet performance may be better with a smaller number for maximum packet size from the endpoint VDI device. This and other factors make a fully representative pilot sound like a really good idea!

However, other platforms may use a new set of options to interact differently with the VDI device firmware. One example is the Pano Logic desktop device, which only requires the creation and configuration of option 001 as a vendor class. This is different than the example above in that there is no X11 window manager resident on the device.

While these DHCP configuration options are not overwhelming when viewed individually, it is worth considering the larger picture in the case of these options already in use. The most common example is an IP telephone at a remote site. While in central offices, IP telephony is usually split to a separate network, but this may not be the case for remote sites that have two or three VDI stations and the same number of phones. It may make sense to have only one IP network.

DHCP is critical to effective network management, including a VDI solution. Some planning on scope and configuration can go a long way to ensure that the technology will function as expected.

September 29, 2008  11:29 AM

ThinLaunch not all that impressive

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

At the New Innovators both at VMworld 2008 was an interesting small booth from ThinLaunch, which was manned by three of the four people in the company. I had a short pow-wow with two of the folks there and came away with mixed feelings. The product, for which the company is named, appears to fulfill a couple of interesting needs, the first being IT shops that want to pilot virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) but don’t want to invest beyond the server room, and the second being smaller businesses that have server virtualization capacity to devote to hosting clients but have been loathe to rip and replace their thick clients with new thin hardware. I’m not too wowed by the product but I can see where it may be useful. That said, I was royally unimpressed with the technology.

ThinLaunch can be cobbled together with a few Group Policy object edits in Active Directory without buying the product. Simply replace the shell with whatever VDI launcher (or other application) you want. Microsoft tells you how to do it here. True, ThinLaunch then monitors this process if it crashes and can automatically restart it, but this is also something that can be managed with an application or by copying the code from this site.

ThinLaunch is available as an MSI package, meaning it’s very easy to deploy via Group Policy. Then again, Group Policies are even easier to deploy via group policy. Duh. ThinLaunch requires .NET 2.0. and GPOs don’t. ThinLaunch supports Windows 2000 through Vista and 2K8. GPOs do too.

I can see the need for this package and I can even see some large enterprise customers who’d want a packaged application to handle the conversion of legacy desktops. I can even see using the product in small businesses with virtualization already in place but a lot of legacy desktops and a lack of cash. What I can’t see is how it’s innovative in its approach.

Sorry, ThinLaunch, but you get three out of ten pokers — there’s just nothing hot there.

September 29, 2008  11:00 AM

Embotics V-Scout VM population trending is a hidden jewel

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Virtualization administrators are quite aware of the risk of virtual machine sprawl. How your virtual environment will grow or shrink will vary based on many factors. For new implementations, there is a generally a large front-loading of virtual machines from conversions or migrations from older environments. The ongoing mode, however, may be a little more predictable. V-Scout from Embotics has a great feature buried in the reporting engine that can give you a view into the VMware guest virtual machine footprint in the population trending report.

The base report is fair enough, as it gets more accurate and reasonable with a good time sample to make predictions. I have just about one month’s worth of data in my V-Scout data base, so now some of the data makes sense. Here is the top of the base report:
VM Trend Report
There is a quick snapshot of the change in storage, number of virtual machines, operating system count, memory and CPU inventories. In this example, I added a host as well as virtual machines and storage, showing the comprehensive changes nicely for the timeframe.

The real treasure of this report, however, is the bottom option called “VM Details.” This is a nice log of virtual machines that were added and removed in the environment. While there may be a net gain of two virtual machines in the timeframe example above, this detail will show how we arrived at that count. This can help explain virtual machine additions and removals that may be part of a special task or project, and they can all be viewed in the bottom of the VM population trending report as shown below:
VM Details
V-Scout’s intuitive interface continues to bring good information closer to the virtualization administrator. V-Scout is a free management application that can plug into VMware Infrastructure 3 environments and can be downloaded from the Embotics website.

September 29, 2008  10:53 AM

Microsoft – Time to put up or shut up

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

Having seen a lot of anti-VMware propaganda coming out of the Microsoft marketing machine lately, it strikes me that Microsoft is desperate to do anything to try to catch up and compete with VMware. One example is the website, which it recently launched in conjunction with passing out $1 chips and flyers at VMworld. What’s next, Microsoft? Late-night TV infomercials on Hyper-V proclaiming its greatness? You might see if George Foreman is available — you could call it the lean, mean, cost-reducing virtualization machine.

Microsoft’s tactics strike me as childish. Instead of trying to mislead people, the company should spend its time and money making a product that can actually compete with VMware. Microsoft tries to push the cost issue without looking at the big picture numbers and the features you get with each product. VMware costs more because you get more with it; you get a proven, mature and feature-rich product with many integration, management and automation components.

Microsoft is way behind in the enterprise virtualization game and has a lot of catching up to do. VMware’s recent announcements at VMworld puts Microsoft even farther back in VMware’s rear-view mirror. Microsoft should be doing everything it can to polish its 1.0 product and add some of the many features and functionality that ESX already has. Good products tend to speak for themselves. Once Microsoft has a product that can stand up to ESX, it won’t be forced to sink to the guerilla marketing level to sell its product. I guess at this point Microsoft has to do everything it can to try and achieve global domination of the virtualization market. Maybe it’s time for VMware to start its own website, along the lines of — but then again, why sink to Microsoft’s level?

September 29, 2008  10:44 AM

EsXpress: A good idea come ’round again

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

I had the opportunity to spend a little time at the esXPress booth at VMworld 2008 this year, and I could kick myself. Hard.

To go to the start of why … a long time ago, back when my office primarily used VMware GSX3 for virtulization at the server level, I had a real need to do backups of the virtual machine disk files (VMDK). My GSX hosts were Linux servers and I used a simple cron job to launch scripts on a schedule, which triggered a suspension, tarring of the VMs and scp-ing of the tarballs to a network-attached storage (NAS) box before re-starting the guests. It let me avoid buying backup licenses for my guests (which were mostly pre-production units, image builds, etc.) and gave me a complete point-in-time recovery solution better than anything I could buy off the shelf (at the time). It ws so efficient that when my company joined the Core Customer Program, I was asked to give a webinar on the topic. Sadly, that webinar is now so out-of-date that it’s been pulled from VMware’s site and I can’t find it on

Now why would I kick myself? Because that simple idea is at the root of esXpress. It does it a lot better than I did and focuses on ESX rather than GSX/Server, but at the core it’s very similar. It gets around the need for downtime and uses gzip under the hood rather than tar, but it has a Linux OS guest that essentially copies, compresses and offloads other guests. I was pretty impressed by how simply and efficiently the product works, though I must admit to being bit jealous — if only I had realized there was a product there in that idea.

So kudos to esXpress for taking a good idea and making a good product out of it!

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