The virtualization market took a sharp turn toward the nasty, practical and cheap during 2008. Microsoft finally shipped a version of Windows Server with a native hypervisor, effectively giving away the ability to create multiple virtual servers from one machine. That's the cheap. The nasty: Microsoft also pulled marketing stunts like sending guerilla marketers into VMware's biggest U.S. tradeshow bearing casino chips with an anti-VMware message. Market-dominating VMware shrugged off Microsoft's bravado and rolled out a host of higher-level management and data-assurance products and services, while it ramped up its marketing to emphasize its vision of an ambitious virtual data center operating system.
In the IT trenches, virtualization users, mostly unconcerned with the vendor spitefulness, will expand beyond the test, development and evaluation installations they ran in 2008, running more production applications in VMs during 2009, predicts Chris Wolf, senior analyst at The Burton Group. In addition to running virtual servers and server-consolidation projects, many IT shops are adding deeper layers of storage and network virtualization-making it even harder to see and manage the proliferation, performance and interaction of applications, networks and VMs that are part of a virtualized infrastructure of ever-increasing complexity, Wolf says.
In a mid-2008 survey Enterprise Strategy Group conducted among VMware users, only a quarter of respondents said the tools they had available to track and monitor their virtual infrastructures were sufficient to let IT maintain current or contractually required service levels, according to ESG analyst Mark Bowker. (That cautiousness and hunger for tools matches up with what we heard in CIO.com's January 2008 survey of IT leaders on virtualization.)
While tools to manage that opacity are proliferating, most tools can see only the performance data visible to hypervisors-which are purposely blinded to the underlying storage and networking topologies on which they run. The really valuable tools will be those with a deep awareness of storage-area networks and network I/O connections, to match applications with both resources and elements that could affect their performance on the network and storage side, Wolf says.
Sure, VMware, Microsoft and Citrix all continue to make and push their own management tools. Industry stalwarts such as CA, Symantec, Cisco and Sun are in the virtualization game for real now too. But among the many other smaller, innovative vendors in the virtualization management arena, which ones deserve your attention? Here is CIO.com's look at ten makers of VM management, configuration and monitoring tools who are, unquestionably, worth watching in 2009.
Akorri's BalancePoint management applications are designed to measure the capacity of physical servers and their performance capacity in order to keep workloads from affecting application service levels. Its particular strength is the ability to find and gather performance data on software and systems beyond the virtual infrastructure, according to a lab review by the Enterprise Systems Group.
BalancePoint collects data from servers, storage and applications to identify relationships among them and interactions that can affect performance. It creates application fingerprints for each set of relationships and creates models to identify potential conflicts ahead of time. The automated discovery and predictive modeling are the most valuable functions, ESG concluded, but the simple implementation that comes from the system's automated discovery comes in a close second.
CiRBA remains one of the leaders in management of virtualized infrastructures. CiRBA tools are designed to help map out data center consolidations and virtual infrastructure development,combining capacity planning for both physical and virtual servers. CiRBA's capacity planning takes into account factors such as application middleware, database query loads and required service levels. Pre-packaged analyses are designed to help determine optimum workloads for specific configurations of physical and virtual servers. They also allow customers to create their own criteria and evaluate either new designs or additions to existing configurations according to their idiosyncratic requirements.
To learn more about how one customer used CiRBA's tools, see CIO.com case study "Planning virtualization moves wisely". As this IT shop told us, CiRBA's data center intelligence tools help them continue to expand the virtual server infrastructure, while eliminating the guesswork in what-if scenarios.
Embotics V-Commander is designed to take a lot of the stress off an IT staff by automating the control of VMs according to policies based on performance or business criteria. V-Commander, and the entry level V-Scout (available in a free version) are both designed to manage the lifecycle of individual VMs or the virtual infrastructure as a whole.
Version 2.0 of V-Commander is able to ride herd on VMware, Microsoft and Citrix Xen VMs, as well as share data with VMware's VirtualCenter management application.The tool also includes brokers that can exchange both data and commands with mainstream management applications. Ad hoc and canned reports are designed to help rein in rogue VMs and sprawl by enforcing limits on VM growth and the lifespan of those that are already running.
4. Marathon Technologies
Marathon continues to stay near the top of many virtualization users' list of favorites by adding fault tolerance, high-availability and disaster-recovery capabilities to infrastructures that were supposed to eliminate many of those risks just by their very nature. The company's everRun offers failover clustering, component-level fault tolerance that also protects storage and system components, and a system-level control that backs up memory being currently used by really critical applications; everRun keeps a real-time copy of data in memory for those applications so their workload can be shifted to another VM to ensure zero downtime with no loss of transactions or data. Marathon supported only Citrix VMs, until January, when it announced a partnership with Microsoft to expand its capabilities to virtual infrastructures running on Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V.
Neterion, a network-interface card manufacturer has been energetic in addressing a problem most virtualization and networking vendors have ignored: no matter how many VMs you can squeeze onto a single physical server, each VM still has the same need to get data into and back out of the physical server. Most physical servers do fine with a single 1Gbit/sec network interface card. Running many VMs on the same machine causes I/O bottlenecks that can gum up the works. Most VM users solve the problem by adding two, three or even four 1Gbit/sec NICs on the physical server. Neterion's solution is to put a single 10Gbit/sec card on those servers, adding both a huge network pipe and I/O regulation software designed to make it easier to juggle demands for bandwidth among the virtual switches VMs use as interfaces to their network connections, or guarantee minimum bandwidth for specific applications.
The approach is apparently working, in both the real and virtual networking markets. Neterion sales are growing at more than 150 percent per year and its market share in 10Gbit/sec networking is 49 percent, according to a 2008 report from The Linley Group.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.