Monitor VMware ESX with third-party applications

Performance monitoring tools, including those from Hyperic and Microsoft, provide better analysis than VMware's standard tool set. This guide reviews the virtualization performance management offerings that are compatible with ESX and with other virtualization platforms.

Virtualization-specific reporting tools are key for ensuring accurate measurements when monitoring the performance of a virtual infrastructure. In addition to VMware ESX VI3's built-in tools, a large selection of third-party applications offer even better performance management capabilities.

Traditional operating system performance reporting tools are often in-accurate when used on virtual machines (VMs) because they are unaware of the virtualization layer and the underlying physical hardware. The standard performance management toolset that comes with VI3 allows for basic monitoring of events and performance of virtual machines; however, they are limited and not as robust as some of the free and commercial tools that are available.

ESX by itself has very limited historical performance monitoring. It can only monitor statistics real time and going back for the last 60 minutes. VirtualCenter expands on this and allows you to retain statistics for much longer time periods. In VirtualCenter, you can configure the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly sample rates and retention periods of the performance data.

In addition, VirtualCenter also provides you with basic alarms to send alerts on certain events. These events are limited to CPU, memory, disk and network usage being above or below a certain percentage and also host/VM state. There are no alarms available for reporting on things like low disk space on hosts and VMs or if certain events are occurring on your ESX host servers.

The Esxtop service console utility can also provide performance monitoring (but in real-time and in text format) displaying detailed statistics on CPU, memory, disk and network performance. Esxtop output can be re-directed to a CSV file, so it can later be imported into Windows Performance Monitor where it can be displayed and analyzed in graphical form.

In addition to monitoring events, logs and performance of hosts and VMs, you should also monitor the host hardware for any failures and degradation that may occur. Defective memory is one common hardware problem found in host servers due to the fact that virtual hosts maximize the available memory, unlike physical servers that typically underutilize memory.

Most of the major hardware vendors have agents specifically designed to install on the ESX Service Console to provide hardware monitoring for the host server. ESXi has these built in, utilizing a CIM (Common Information Model) broker built into the VMKernel because there is no Service Console available.

Beyond the built-in utilities for monitoring ESX hosts and virtual machines, there are also numerous free and commercial applications that provide much more robust reporting, analysis and monitoring.

Let's review some of the applications that are available:

Nagios While not ESX specific, Nagios is a free, open source host, service and network monitoring application that can be installed and configured on a Linux server. It is also available as a pre-configured virtual appliance that can be installed on an ESX host.

Nagios can be configured to monitor a wide range of devices including Windows servers, Linux servers, Unix servers, network printers, routers/switches and services like HTTP, SSH, FTP and more. Nagios can also be configured to receive SNMP traps from other applications like VirtualCenter and hardware agents. While not as powerful as some of the other enterprise monitoring systems, Nagios is a good choice because of its combination of features and price.

Vizioncore vCharter Pro vCharter Pro is a powerful reporting and monitoring application that is specifically for monitoring and analyzing ESX hosts.

Vizioncore's product integrates with VirtualCenter and provides enhanced reporting capabilities, configurable dashboards, intelligent rules and alarms and custom reporting to identify trends and bottlenecks. It has built-in intelligence that goes beyond simply reporting statistics, it analyzes them to help you better understand what is happening with your ESX hosts.

eG VM Monitor Another powerful reporting and monitoring application specifically for ESX hosts. eG VM Monitor is a web-based application specifically for VMware environments and is also part of the larger eG Enterprise Suite. It includes support for both agent-based and agent-less (for ESXi) monitoring of servers and only requires installation on the ESX host and not the individual virtual machines.

eG's offering is rich with features and uses an In-N-Out monitoring approach to provide an outside view of a virtual machines performance. It has extensive reporting capabilities and can analyze the performance across applications hosted in the VMware environments to help discover VM dependencies and also to identify performance bottlenecks.

Veeam Management Suite This suite includes the Reporter, Monitor and Configurator products which can also be purchased individually.

Veeam Reporter automatically discovers and collects information on VI3 environments and provides reports for analysis and to also document the environment.

Veeam Monitor integrates with VirtualCenter and provides enhanced monitoring and alerting of the health and performance of your environment, it can also be used without VirtualCenter to monitor individual ESX hosts.

The third application in the Veeam suite, Configurator, helps you more easily configure ESX hosts and provides a GUI to change settings that normally are changed from the ESX command line.

Hyperic HQ for VMware Hyperic HQ for VMware is part of the Hyperic HQ suite that provides monitoring for a wide range of products. It allows you to analyze performance metrics from the outside in to get a better perspective on how the physical host and virtual machines are performing. It features historical charting, event correlation capabilities and configurable graphs to analyze performance data.

NimBUS for VMware Monitoring Part of the NimBUS for Server Monitoring product, it provides in-depth monitoring of ESX hosts, virtual machines and VirtualCenter servers. It monitors all the ESX and virtual machine performance metrics, virtual machine operating systems and also the response times of applications running on virtual machines. It can also monitor the performance and status of the VirtualCenter server and application as well as its database.

Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager The nWorks add-on to Systems Center provides detailed monitoring and management capabilities for VMware VI3 environments. This product integrates with VMware APIs and to the VirtualCenter, collecting information through a special infrastructure collector component. The nWorks add-on provides access to all the detailed ESX host and virtual machine metrics. This integration allows Microsoft Systems Center to monitor and report performance, events and alerts of ESX host servers. In addition, the upcoming Virtual Machine Manager 2008 product will provide even better integration to manage and monitor ESX host servers.

Tivoli Monitoring for Virtual Servers An extension of the IBM Tivoli Monitoring family, this product provides monitoring for VMware ESX hosts. It monitors resource performance and server availability and extends traditional Tivoli monitoring to include both the physical and virtualization layers. With it you can create resource baseline service levels to help measure performance while identifying problems and bottlenecks.

The products listed above go beyond the basic monitoring that VMware provides with built-in tools. You'll find that these third-party options provide easy, effective tools to pinpoint potential problems and performance bottlenecks.

About the author: Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forum and maintains VMware-land.com, a VI3 information site.

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