Evaluating virtualization management diagnostic tools

Boosting a virtual deployment's performance requires you to find the bottlenecks that hinder it. An expert examines new storage and application performance management tools that find the root causes of problems and improve consolidation rates.

Dave Bartoletti

In the first two parts of this series on optimizing virtual infrastructure management, we examined how virtual infrastructure management tools can ease management tasks and the must-have features of the best performance management tools .

For more on optimizing virtual infrastructure management:

Using virtual infrastructure management to improve storage performance

Virtual performance management tools' must-have features

In the final installment of the series, the the Taneja Group profiles several emerging virtual infrastructure optimization (VIO) technologies that can diagnose virtual performance problems, identify root causes of performance bottlenecks and ease pain points in virtualization management.

The benefits of virtual infrastructure management tools
Before we delve into specific VIO technologies, let's review the benefits of VIO from the Taneja Group's customer use cases. Armed with detailed runtime metrics, administration teams were able to agree on performance root causes, identify and validate complex contention issues, and productively interact with storage and virtualization vendors to fix configuration problems. These administration teams reported that VIO technologies allowed them to consistently achieve several goals:

  • Eliminating overprovisioning. Determining the limiting factors in the infrastructure, identifying unused switch capacity, increasing port utilization and avoiding expensive new purchases.
  • Improving productivity. Enabling cross-domain teams to resolve problems at the "speed of virtualization" while reducing the number of trouble tickets and lowering operating costs.
  • Increasing consolidation ratios. Providing accurate metrics, determining how I/O impacts application performance on virtual machines (VMs) and reducing the overall cost per virtualized application.
  • Improving service levels. Improving the response times of administrators by providing automated alerts about potential performance bottlenecks.

Available storage performance optimization tools
While the virtual infrastructure management market is evolving, several providers offer products that promise significant gains for cross-domain operations teams. Virtual Instruments' VirtualWisdom and Akorri's BalancePoint focus on the interaction between the server and storage tiers, take an operations view of performance and stress the storage I/0 path. In the opinion of the Taneja Group though, VirtualWisdom provides deeper insight at the Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) level, making it an appropriate solution for midsized and large enterprises with significant investments in Fibre Channel SANs.

In fact, one customer using VirtualWisdom reported the following benefits:

  • immediate detection of VMware Inc.'s configuration problems and the root causes of storage I/O traffic delays.
  • data showing the correlation of virtual server events (such as VMware VMotion activity) with storage performance degradation.
  • rapid diagnosis of the causes of host bus adapter (HBA) latency issues and identification of extraneous management traffic sources.
  • prevention of storage port overloads and overprovisioning costs.

Application performance management technologies
In addition to technology providers such as Akorri and Virtual Instruments, some vendors take an end-user -- or application -- view of performance, a discipline referred to as application performance management. The Taneja Group includes these vendors and their technologies in the VIO category because they have made solid progress toward mapping, monitoring and analyzing multi-tiered virtualized applications.

Application performance management technologies -- such as BlueStripe Software Inc.'s FactFinder and VMware's soon-to-be-released AppSpeed -- use automated discovery to address the problem of cataloging interactions between multiple application components. This task is especially difficult when the components are mobile and connect to one another dynamically, as is the case with virtual resources. After completing their automated discovery operations, these technologies identify bottlenecks and latencies at the application and end-user level and suggest remedies.

Virtual infrastructure management vendor comparisons
The Taneja Group believes that storage performance optimization is directly related to the improvement in user response-time provided by the application performance management technologies mentioned above. Taken together, these two types of virtual infrastructure management tools span a wide range of storage and network transaction metrics. Table 1 provides a high-level overview of how these selected vendors in the VIO space compare with one another.

 

Capability Virtual Instruments VirtualWisdom Akorri BalancePoint VMware AppSpeed BlueStripe FactFinder
Independence Yes Yes VMware-owned Yes
Depth SNMP, FC TAP, vCenter. Measures I/0 data continuously in real time. SNMP, vCenter. Gathers I/O data by polling storage devices on a schedule. Out-of-band IP traffic analyzer. TCP connection analyzer in operating system agent.
Breadth Server and storage. Integrates with all leading management frameworks Server and storage. Integrates with all leading management frameworks Applications and server. Integrations unknown at this time. Applications and server. Integrates with all leading management frameworks.
Impact Storage: Out-of-band
Server: Out-of-band
Storage: Host-based
Server: Host-based
Server: Host-based
Network: Out-of-band
Server: VM-based
Network: VM-based
Usability Provides cross-domain actionable information Provides cross-domain actionable information Provides application-level discovery and dependency mapping Provides application-level discovery and dependency mapping
Scalability Most deployed in large enterprise environments Mostly deployed in smaller-scale SMB environments Non-applicable Mostly deployed in smaller-scale SMB environments

Table 1

Can you benefit from virtual infrastructure management technologies?
Whether a customer should explore one or more of the technologies that have been discussed in this series depends on individual challenges. Are your virtual servers wreaking havoc in your SAN? Are your server consolidation ratios too low? Do you spend too much on additional SAN capacity without confidence that it can solve your problems? Have you taken advantage of the advanced availability features of your virtual infrastructure? Or have you lost track of where your VMs run and can't respond quickly to user response-time complaints? Whatever your particular virtualization pain points, the comprehensive diagnostic solutions available today go beyond monitoring and enable new levels of infrastructure optimization.

 
  Dave Bartoletti is a senior analyst and consultant in the virtualization practice at Taneja Group. Bartoletti covers companies, trends and technologies in the server, storage, and network virtualization markets with a focus on management tools and strategies. Prior to joining Taneja Group, Bartoletti was the vice president of marketing at Enigmatec, a pioneering virtualization management vendor. Bartoletti has more than 20 years of technical, operational and marketing experience as an executive at Tibco, IBM and Fidelity Investments. He can be reached at dave@tanejagroup.com.
 


This was first published in May 2009

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