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VMware copes with performance, chargeback anxiety

Cuts price on converged VM jukebox, too

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VMware has given its vCenter management tool an overhaul, giving admins the ability to monitor application performance and charge back departments for the privilege.

VMware has kept its tools for managing server virtualization separate from the ESX Server hypervisor that implements virtualization and the features and functions it sells atop that hypervisor. This way, the vCenter tools can be upgraded independently from each successive generation of hypervisor.

The new ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its vSphere extensions (which provide live migration, SMP scalability, disaster recover, and other functions for VMs) was announced on April 21 and started shipping a month later. Today, it is the independent vCenter management tool from VMware to get some enhancements.

The first tweak to vCenter is an add-on called AppSpeed, which does performance monitoring and service-level reporting for applications running inside virtual machines. While AppSpeed will interface with ESX Server 3.0, ESX Server 3.5, and ESX Server 4.0 hypervisors and the virtual machines running atop them, the software does require a license to vCenter Server and you only get access to that product by having the vSphere Client, which is part of the vSphere toolset.

(Yes, VMware makes this just a bit more complicated than it needs to be. vCenter Server is the management server for the hypervisors, akin to an out-of-band management appliance, but with the latest release, you can only access that server through vSphere Client, the graphical front end to the vSphere stack.)

AppSpeed can drill down into VMs and gather up all kinds of data about how CPU and memory capacity and network bandwidth are being used by applications and hypervisors, helping system administrators more quickly identify what is getting clogged up when an application is not performing well.

According to Nicolas Jacques, product line manager at VMware, AppSpeed consists of a server program that runs on the network of virtualized machines, which take in telemetry data from VMs running on the hypervisors in the network via AppSpeed probes. The probes are lightweight virtual machines that are plunked onto each physical server, which can gather up performance information from inside the VMs and sniff out network information through the vSwitch virtual switch that is part of vSphere 4.0.

Obviously, AppSpeed is tied directly to the vSphere stack (even if it can read earlier VMware hypervisors), unlike the Ionix family of cross-platform system management tools that EMC announced last week. vCenter AppSpeed is available today and costs $1,250 per processor socket that is under control of ESX Server.

The other new feature of VMware's management tool is called vCenter Chargeback - this is going to make the bean-counters happy, and probably more than a few end users and departments that are resource-hogs a little nervous. vCenter Chargeback does exactly what the name suggests: it allows for the allocation of VM resources to specific users, departments, divisions, and groups within a company (or users within a service provider reselling ESX Server slices).

Because VMware knows that IT organizations are not all ready to freak out their end user communities by implementing full chargeback for IT resources consumed, vCenter Chargeback implements a softer form of IT resource accounting called "showback" by VMware, which basically means breaking it to them slowly without actually sending company departments the bill for what they consume. But make no mistake: if your company doesn't have chargeback for IT resources, it is coming.

The future of IT is utility computing, in its varied forms, and IT departments, like any other service provider, has to charge for services rendered and most definitely will. vCenter Chargeback can be used to create detailed billing reports that can in turn be submitted to parts of the company, according to Jacques. vCenter Chargeback is available today and costs $750 per processor socket that is under control of ESX Server.

Finally, VMware is merging its vCenter Lab Manager jukeboxing software for virtual machines and their internal operating systems and applications with its vCenter Stage Manager, which controls the deployment, patching, and mothballing of virtual machines on production machines. With Lab Manager 4, these two products are merged into a single thing called Lab Manager.

(Why they don't call it VM Manager or VM Jukebox is beyond me, since that is what it really is. But somehow people got the idea that the key part of software labs for testing and development was the lab, which makes most people think of test tubes and arcing electricity and some crazy dude screaming "It's alive!")

The prior and separate Lab Manager 3.0 add-on to vCenter cost $1,567 per processor socket for a base license with 12x5 business-class support; vCenter Stage Manager 3.0 cost the same amount, so the combined products ran to $3,134. That's as expensive as many of the ESX Server hypervisors and add-on tools, and it looks like customers were balking at the price. With vCenter Lab Manager 4.0, which combines both tools, the price has dropped to $1,495 per processor socket; it costs $1,809 with one year of support.

Lab Manager 4 now supports ESX Server and ESXi flash-embedded hypervisors types. (It used to only support the full ESX Server implementation, not the skinnied down ESXi.) Lab Manager 4.0 also includes an improved implementation of "network fencing," a feature that allows multiple instances of the same virtual machine with the same network settings to run on the same physical network at the same time.

Lab Manager 4.0 is not restricted to the current ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, but will also work with the ESX Server ESXi 3.5 generations, but not ESX Serber 3.0. ®

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