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IT directors, app owners may gain common ground with VMware AppSpeed

IT departments want to virtualize tier-one applications, but app owners often resist. VMware hopes to provide common ground with vCenter AppSpeed1.0.

VMware keeps telling customers to go ahead and virtualize their tier-one applications such as databases, Exchange email and the like. True-blue VMware architects have gotten the message loud and clear, though sometimes these hopes fall on the deaf ears of bosses and colleagues.

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"I designed a complete VMware virtual Oracle environment here and was vetoed and told to put it on physical!" said an IT administrator who requested anonymity. "My own director threw me under the bus," he added.

In some cases, the issue boils down to software support. (Oracle, in particular, has a draconian no third-party hypervisor policy.) But just as often, application owners are the obstacle, fearing that a virtualized environment will not deliver the performance and availability their applications need.

I designed a complete VMware virtual Oracle environment here and was vetoed and told to put it on physical.
Anonymous IT administrator,

"It's an interesting dynamic between the IT guys and the application owners," said Bernd Harzog, CEO of APM Experts, a consulting firm focused on application performance monitoring. "The IT guys have been able to deliver hard-dollar ROI and agility with VMware, and they want to virtualize everything," he said. "The app owners are by and large, reluctant -- and that's a diplomatic way of saying it."

Even in the best of circumstances, keeping a demanding, multi-tier app up and running and in top form is difficult, Harzog said. "Then the IT guy tells them, 'I'm going to add an extra layer to the stack, and things are going to move around, and there's no guarantee of fixed resources…' As someone who will get fired if SAP doesn't perform well, my reaction is to start throwing hand grenades."

VMware vCenter to provide common ground?
Thus, in a sense , the release of vCenter AppSpeed 1.0 today can be seen as VMware's way of giving those two groups common ground. By reporting on the performance of multi-tier applications running on both virtual and physical hardware, AppSpeed can be used to baseline an existing physical system before migrating it into a virtual machine.

The performance of the app before and after the physical-to-virtual migration can then be compared, to reassure app owners that it is running well, said Melinda Wilken, VMware's senior director of product marketing. VMware calls this "assured migration."

"At first, people virtualized applications that were considered low risk, like file and print," Wilken said. "But as IT organizations move to virtualized mission-critical apps, AppSpeed can help them do that with confidence."

AppSpeed's architecture differs from traditional application performance management tools, said Harzog. Instead of analyzing resource consumption of the underlying physical infrastructure or tracking individual transactions, AppSpeed evaluates end-user response time. To do so unobtrusively, it scans traffic traveling over the virtual switch in an ESX host rather than by installing agents within the guest OSes.

But while AppSpeed is unobtrusive, it has limitations. For one thing, because it listens for packets traveling over the [virtual] switch, "the application needs to be transactional for [AppSpeed] to do the mapping," said Wilkin.

More to the point, AppSpeed will not work with every app, transactional or not. "This issue isn't unique to AppSpeed; it's true for any performance-monitoring solution that takes a network performance approach. It can only work with the protocols that it knows about," said Harzog.

So while VMware touts AppSpeed as a good fit for multi-tier Web and SQL database apps, there are doubts about whether it will work with proprietary protocols, such as SAP or encrypted Microsoft Exchange.

But despite any shortcomings, AppSpeed is still a first step toward bridging the divide that separates virtualization pros and their application owner peers. "Because virtualization is new, the onus is on the virtualization admin to show that [virtualization] isn't the problem," said Wilkin. Providing a "shared view for both IT and the app owner … .can reduce a whole lot of finger pointing."

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

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