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VMware admin enlists Tripwire to address vCenter flaws

Tripwire's new vWire virtual infrastructure management tool delves deep into VMware ESX log files to improve virtual machine monitoring and troubleshooting.

Tripwire Inc.'s new vWire management tool builds on and extends the monitoring, change management and automation capabilities of VMware vCenter.

One IT manager that has used the tool says vWire can minimize the time it takes to troubleshoot VMware environments by providing a searchable, easy-to-read view into VMware ESX hypervisor log files and configuration data.

"The log files that ESX Server produces have a lot of valuable information, but getting at that information is very time-consuming," said Mat Banke, a senior systems administrator at Serena Software Inc., an enterprise software vendor that runs 19 ESX hosts across four clusters, including its test and development, QA and release engineering environments.

Faster troubleshooting
Banke said he wished he had vWire last year, when the ESX hosts inexplicably kept losing access to their logical unit numbers, or LUNs. Working with VMware tech support, Serena identified the issue in a few weeks--an overloaded storage area network (SAN) array was issuing SCSI bus resets--but with vWire, Banke believes the problem would have been resolved much faster.

"The information was buried in the ESX logs between a thousand other entries," he said. With vWire, "we would still have had the SAN problem, but it would have helped us solve it a little sooner," Banke said.

Other than the unwanted downtime and productivity losses, Banke said that the prolonged SAN issues gave the IT department a bit of a black eye. Since 2000, Serena's developers had used VMware Workstation; but in 2007, Banke's team decided to centralize test and development activities on ESX. When the company's old SAN started acting up, "some people were looking to go back to physical equipment. It affected our credibility a bit, and when we got the new SAN in place, we had to resell it to some skeptical users."

Banke said he accesses vWire from his Virtual Infrastructure Client as a plug-in, and that it provides him with a dashboard overview of his systems. The dashboard has been pre-configured to look for interesting log items (e.g., the aforementioned SCSI bus resets), but can also be customized.

Banke also said his team uses vWire's change management feature, which plots event logs against a timeline, to correlate changes in performance or availability to events. He also uses its search capabilities to quickly identify virtual machines that meet specific characteristics. For example, before doing maintenance on a host, Banke will do a search for all the VMs with a mounted CD-ROM drive, and disconnect it before going in to maintenance mode. That enables VMotion to smoothly move the VMs to a new host.

Courting VMware admins
VWire isn't Tripwire's first foray into virtualization. The company also has two free tools available for download from OpsCheck, which surveys an environment to determine whether it is correctly configured to run VMotion; and ConfigCheck, which checks the security and configuration of an ESX server based on VMware's own security-hardening guidelines.

Tripwire also solicited the input of VMware administrators to guide vWire product direction, and took admins' cues for its choice of PowerShell as the scripting language to build into its automation engine. "Our decision to go with [PowerShell] gets validated every week," said Ted Gary, vWire's product manager. "I would hate to think if we had chosen Perl."

But mainly, vWire is about filling a conspicuous gap in VMware admins' arsenal: robust monitoring. "VMware admins are the best and the brightest; when virtualization came around, they were the ones that were picked to check it out," Gary said. Coming from other technical disciplines, they knew that better monitoring tools existed, "and they felt left out."

VWire is generally available for $395 per processor in a monitored ESX host, plus $80 of annual support, and $495 for the management console.

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

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