In some ways, virtual server sprawl is much worse than the physical server sprawl from the turn of the last millennium. At least with real servers, there is some physical limit - the size of the data center and the power delivered to it - that puts a limit on the number of machines system administrators create.
Not so in a virtual environment. You can make as many virtual machines (VMs) are you want - but then, you have to monitor and manage them.
Companies with expertise in monitoring, provisioning, and otherwise managing physical servers of all makes and stripes have in many cases branched out into virtual or logical servers. So have the server makers themselves, who often create their own system management tools, now with extensions for virtual machines and logical partitions.
This article is by no means an exhaustive survey of all the tools available, but merely an update of the products that have been released or tweaked in the past couple of days.
Avocent, which is probably known in the data center for its remotely managed KVM switches, also sells remote system management appliances and IT management software products, the most important of which is called DSView 3.
In 2007, this physical server management tool was extended to be able to manage virtual machines running inside VMware ESX Server 3.01 partitions, and was subsequently updated for ESX Server 3.5 partitions. This May it was further tweaked with a power manager plug-in that could monitor (but cannot change) power consumption on physical servers and related power distribution units inside a rack.
Fat meets thin
With the just-announced DSView 3.7, the tool can now manage VMs running atop Citrix Systems' commercialized implementation of the open source Xen hypervisor, XenServer. To be specific, DSView can hook into XenServer 4.1 or higher releases in standard, enterprise, or platinum editions.
While DSView already ran on Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 editions, and release 3.7 adds support for the new Windows Server 2008 kicker. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, 4, and 5, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, 9, or 10, and Sun Microsystems' Solaris 9 and 10 are also able to run DSView and physical systems using these operating systems can be monitored with the tool as well. The DSView, though, does not yet support the monitoring of Xen partitions inside RHEL or SLES Linuxes, or Hyper-V partitions inside Windows Server 2008.
Obviously, Hyper-V is something Avocent needs to support, and according to Marty Jackson, director of corporate strategy at Avocent, Hyper-V partitions will be reachable from DSView some time in 2009. It is unclear if Avocent will support Xen partitions inside RHEL and SLES or containers inside Solaris for x64 servers, but this is a possibility if enough customers ask for it. (Everyone says that). Ditto for other RISC/Unix or proprietary platforms. Avocent is sticking to the high-volume products for now.
A base configuration of the DSView tool costs $2,995 for 100 managed nodes.
Over at Replicate Technologies, a new company launched today, system management and virtualization and experts from Cisco Systems and Sun have created a new tool called Replicate Datacenter Analyzer, which comes out with a 1.0 release now. Like other tools, this one requires a system administrator.
It goes a bit further than the run-of-the-mill monitoring tool, though, in that it analyzes physical and virtual server environments and the networks that support them and compares the setups that it finds against models. It then does predictive analysis on the real network to warn system administrators of things that could go wrong in the future.
The RDA tool from Replicate is therefore a little different from the normal kind of system monitoring tool, which watches hardware and software, waits for something bad to happen, helps administrators identify the cause of the problem, and then waits for the next problem. In a physical environment that has lots of replicated web, application, and database servers, this approach to problems is workable. But in a virtual environment, where there are a lot more eggs in one basket, a failure can wipe out a lot more applications.
RDA 1.0 supports VMware's ESX 3.5 hypervisor and links into its related VirtualCenter 2.5 management tool. RDA does not reach out and touch anything - it just monitors and predicts failures. You can't have RDA tell VirtualCenter what to do - at least not yet - but RDA pulls lots of information out of VirtualCenter to see what the VMs are doing.
Don't do it yourself
Rich Miller, one of the company's co-founders and its chief executive officer, said it will be ready to support ESX Server 4.0 when VMware rolls it out. Support for Microsoft's Hyper-V is next on the roadmap, followed by support for Citrix' XenServer. Beyond that, supported platforms will be driven by (again) customer demand. RDA 1.0 is available today on a subscription basis for $500 per two-socket server per year.
Of course, if you don't want to manage your virtual infrastructure at all, you could have someone else do it for you. MindShift Technologies, which provides managed services for data and voice networks, has just announced a server virtualization service and a related disaster recovery service for small and medium businesses.
With the server virtualization service, you can buy slices of servers running VMware ESX Server within MindShift's own data centers, or if you like having servers behind your own firewall, MindShift will deploy machines inside your own facility and manage the VMs remotely. The service also comes with disaster recovery for the VMs, which is provided using Computer Associates' XOsoft replication software underneath ESX Server.
In 2009, MindShift plans to launch a variant of these services supporting Hyper-V partitions. Pricing was not available as we went to press for these services.®