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Systems management pioneer tackles VM management

Alex Barrett
A lot has changed since the 1990s when Joe Fitzgerald co-founded Novadigm, a systems management company that Hewlett-Packard Co. acquired in 2004 and subsumed into the OpenView product family. Virtualization, he said, throws traditional change, patch and configuration management tools like the ones he developed for a loop and requires some fresh thinking.

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Faced with a virtualized environment, a traditional systems management product "thinks everything is fine, but in reality it's not," said Fitzgerald, who is now co-founder and CEO of Mahwah, N.J.-based ManageIQ Inc., a startup launching at the Gartner Data Center conference in Las Vegas today. ManageIQ has been launched to address some of the monitoring and management challenges created by virtual environments.

The challenges of VM environments
Most systems management tools, for example, were built to rely on "traditional underpinnings" like a BIOS or MAC address that was burned into a system's circuitry. But in a virtual world, "all that is arbitrary now," Fitzgerald said

The ease with which virtual machines can be cloned, thereby taking a snapshot of a virtual machine (VM), presents another set of challenges. "A cloned VM is a byte-for-byte duplicate of the original," making it nearly impossible for traditional systems management tools to differentiate between and track them. In a similar vein, VMs can exist in multiple states -- running, paused, or powered off -- and can be copied to removable media like a USB stick. Also, most of the "agentry" used by traditional tools "have no idea that they're running in a VM, much less all the tricks that are going on around them," Fitzgerald said.

In a virtualized environment, a traditional systems management product thinks everything is fine even though it's not.
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Not surprisingly, ManageIQ's new EVM Insight eschews agents and relies on what Fitzgerald calls SmartState technology" that "scopes out a VM like an x-ray," including its software and patches, regardless of the current state of a VM. EVM Insight also automatically detects new VMs and their snapshots by keeping an eye on networked storage.

EVM Insight then uses such information to build a virtual management database, or "VMDB," that can be federated into a traditional configuration management database CMDB, or exposed via Web services into existing management systems.

ManageIQ also takes the step of creating a Virtual BlackBox for a VM, assigning a unique name to a virtual machine in order to track it – and its heirs -- throughouot its lifecycle. "The VM may have been renamed, but we know that this is really such and such a VM," Fitzgerald said.

One possible use case for EVM Insight is to evaluate virtual appliances, Fitzgerald said. "You download this virtual appliance, but you have no idea what's inside it, whether it needs to be patched, whether it's based on some indigestible open source license." By scanning it with EVM Insight, "you can analyze it without taking any risks." ManageIQ plans to ship EVM Insight as a virtual appliance that can discover VMware's Virtual Machine Disk Format or Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk Format virtual machines. It features an Ajax-based Web GUI and can work with or without the presence of VMware's VirtualCenter. It will be generally available by the end of December. Fitzgerald said that once EVM Insight is pointed at a VM, "within 30 seconds, we've discovered it and recorded it."

Reigning in unruly VMs
Discovering and cataloging VMs is only one part of the VM management puzzle, Fitzgerald said. "The problem with VMs is that enterprises have to worry about VMs walking out the door and being sparked up anywhere."

"The great thing about VMs is that they're portable and they start everywhere. The bad thing about VMs is that they're portable and they start everywhere," he said. To combat this, ManageIQ is working on what it calls SmartVM technology that renders a VM useless unless it is deployed within a ManageIQ environment. To do so, ManageIQ takes bits necessary to a launch a VM and encrypts them or removes them, Fitzgerald said, until it's time for the VM to launch.

Incorporated in to the company's forthcoming EVM Control module, smart VM technology will introduce a policy-based enforcement mechanism that operates at the host layer, "before a VM ever even gets a chance to start," Fitzgerald said.

The technology is also introducing the notion of "tagging" a VM with metadata (e.g., as a test-and-development or production VM). Combined with EVM Control's policy engine, tagging could be used to regulate the circumstances under which a VM is deployed, he said.

EVM Control will be available in beta by the end of the year, but Fitzgerald didn't specify when it might be generally available. Whatever the case, EVM Control clearly rests on the availability of EVM Insight. "You can't do control until you know what you have," he said.

Ahead of his time
As the visionary leading the ManageIQ team, Fitzgerald is clearly "ahead of his time," said Ronni Colville, research vice president for Gartner's IT Operations Management practice.

But Colville expressed little doubt that Fitzgerald and ManageIQ will succeed. "That happened with his last company," Colville said. Novadigm introduced concepts such as desired-state management, which "people are still talking about today."

Managing virtual environments is a particularly immature field, Colville said, in need of new ideas. "All people are thinking about is consolidation and start and stop," she said. "They're not thinking … about how to track these things, how to patch them, are they compliant," she said. Smaller virtualization management companies "will ride on his coattails," predicted Colville, because they lack Fitzgerald's innovation.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director.


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