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Virtualization planning: CiRBA steps in

CiRBA claims its capacity planning tool can do a better job than VMware Capacity Planner in identifying a consolidation strategy for your environment.

A firm with roots in inventory and change management, CiRBA Inc., has developed software that it claims can help IT managers unveil the most effective – and safest – possible virtualization and consolidation strategy for their environment.

CiRBA is announcing version 4.0 of its Data Center Intelligence (DCI) suite this week, whose new graphical visualization capabilities allow IT managers to quickly identify which servers in their environment can be virtualized on to which servers.

Capacity planning tools are especially important in very large server environments, said Andrew Hillier, CiRBA co-founder and CTO. "If you have 50 servers in a lab and virtualize them, chances are it will just work. But a lab is relatively free of constraints," he said. But if you have 2,000 servers, "virtualization is a big opportunity to make a mess."

CiRBA starts by gathering data on the environment over the course of several weeks, using agents or agentless data collection mechanisms. The data characterizes the servers, applications and their workloads, as well as business constraints such as geographic and organizational boundaries. CiRBA then runs the data through its engine.

Virtualization is a big opportunity to make a mess.
Andrew Hillier
CiRBA co-founder and CTO

The resulting report is a visual scorecard that cross-correlates source and target servers along the x and y axes, and notes their degree of compatibility, with green representing high compatibility, red incompatibility, and yellow – somewhere in between.

More accurate
Hillier believes that his firm's software can identify consolidation opportunities that other capacity planning tools might miss, or avoid potentially dangerous combinations.

Some capacity planning apps only consider average workloads when determining whether they can be consolidated, Hillier explained. CiRBA considers peak workloads, and when they occur. For example, the aggregate average workload of two servers may exceed the capabilities of a virtualization host; however, CiRBA will also notice that their workloads peak at different times – in the morning and afternoon – thus recommend that they be consolidated on the same host. Conversely, if their peaks coincided, CiRBA would mark them as incompatible on the same virtualization host.

DCI can be used not only as part of a VMware virtualization project, but also virtualization platforms such as LPARs or Solaris Zones. In addition, some CiRBA customers have used DCI to do "app stacking" on Unix hosts (see Bell Mobility to save $200,000 per year on server consolidation).

In-house data collection
The "Cadillac" of capacity planning tools is VMware Capacity Planner, a service available through VMware-authorized consultants or VACs, said Rod Lucero, CTO at VMPowered, one such VAC located in Circle Pines, Minn. But, he said, the service is expensive, is designed for environments with 200 servers and above, and analyzes customer data back at VMware Inc. headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

That last point is particularly sticky for large companies that are required to keep data within company walls. "Even though the data is stripped of customer information, some customers say 'I don't want any information about my operations leaving the facility,'" Lucero said.

In those cases, virtualization assessments can be performed using data collected in-house, using, say, Microsoft SMS or MOM, or performed with PowerRecon from PlateSpin Ltd., Toronto Ontario.

"PowerRecon can be the most inexpensive because customers can do it on their own," Lucero said.

CiRBA, like PowerRecon, is also installed in-house, and hence would be an option for regulated organizations. Plus, whereas previous versions of DCI were included all of its capabilities, version 4.0 includes a departmental version that analyzes exclusively for virtualization scenarios.

"It's like assigning students to their classroom," said Hillier, comparing virtualization assessments to more open-ended consolidation assessments. "You already know they can all go in the classroom; the question is which ones should go in there together?"

What's new
Other features new in DCI 4.0 include a refined user interface, enhanced VMware reporting capabilities, and forward consolidation analysis – the ability to find space for new applications within existing hardware.

In a next revision, CiRBA will introduce an online portal where customers can edit rules and input models of new server platforms.

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