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VMware admins go for free storage latency assessment

The vKernel software 'taster' tool, which identifies storage I/O latency problems, has advantages over vCenter.

A software utility meant to attract new users to VKernel's data center capacity management software suite has turned heads among VMware administrators.

Testers say the product outdoes VMware Inc.'s own vCenter data storage reporting features and VKernel Corp.'s own full licensed product, which could ease the pain points of latency for administrators.

The StorageVIEW utility is one of three free tools vKernel recently made available for download. Previously released free modules are AppVIEW and CapacityVIEW, which report on the top five most critical virtualized applications selected by an administrator and on the CPU and memory capacity of physical hosts. StorageVIEW identifies the top five storage I/O performance bottlenecks in a virtualized environment.

The pluses -- and limits -- of Storage VIEW
Given its limited scope, StorageVIEW is unlikely to find favor with storage administrators. But virtualization admins say it's an easier way to collect information on storage latency in virtualized environments than with VMware's vCenter or VKernel's licensed Capacity Analyzer tool.

"Even as a paying VKernel customer, I found some extra added value with the StorageVIEW product, as it was quicker to get some 'at a glance' indication of storage metrics that you would normally have to dive reasonably deep into vCenter to get," wrote Chris Dearden, a U.K.-based senior hosting center engineer for one of the world's largest accountancy and professional services firms, in an email to this week. "Although I don't use NFS [Network File System], it also offers NFS metrics which you would need to be running ESX4.0 Update 2 in order to get from vCenter."

Tom Becchetti, who manages both servers and storage for a large manufacturing company, "The VMware info you get for [storage] I/O performance is all command line at this point."

The product also has advantages over the main VKernel product, users say.

"Although it is a taster product, some of the data is actually presented in a neater fashion than in the core product, allowing to me to see which problems are mostly likely to cause me a serious issue, which does lean a little toward the fire-fighting style of IT operations, but when time is running scarce, being one step ahead is almost certainly better than none," Dearden said.

In a blog post last week, Dearden further detailed his use of the VKernetl tool thus far: "4 of the top 5 offenders are on the same host -- I happen to know that host is in a [ESX] 3.5 cluster that has recently been part of a fabric upgrade," he wrote. "On closer investigation I discovered that one of the HBA's [host bus adapters] was not seeing its full complement of paths , most likely due to it not picking up the change in fabric. One HBA rescan later and paths have been restored and latency significantly reduced."

Terry McMillan, an infrastructure systems analyst at a large utility in Canada, uses the full VKernel tool as well as the free modules, and said deployment of the free tools on desktops with notification pop-ups is more convenient for his administrators than is logging into a central server to work with Capacity Analyzer. "I can just get an administrator to download a free tool and get a quick look at a problem he's trying to troubleshoot without having to look at everything or license another product," McMillan added.

The "quick look" is useful for putting out fires in an environment with 57 physical hosts virtualizing 300 virtual servers and connected to 160 logical unit numbers (LUNs) on back-end NetApp Inc. storage systems. "It will pinpoint which VM [virtual machine] on which LUN is doing the complaining and pop up a notification on the desktop," according to McMillan. "It's a nice, quick way to do it without going through the whole [file system] directory tree."

Still, no one should get too heady about "one of the free tools from the great space of free tools available to virtualization administrators," said Rick Vanover, an IT infrastructure manager at a large Midwestern financial services firm. But "one good thing about StorageVIEW is that it works for the free ESXi server installation. This is a plus, as management add-ins are rare for this platform. For managed vSphere environments as well as smaller footprints, StorageVIEW can give you a quick and easy view of a DataStore's latency."

In the meantime, users say VKernel should extend its main product to offer the same kind of desktop notifications as the freebies. McMillan would like to see tighter integration between searching and remediation in the Capacity analyzer tool. "When I find the problem server, I want to right-click and dive right in without having to go find it again," he said.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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