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Time to manage virtual sprawl

Let's get unphysical

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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.

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