Surgient delivers virtual test labs
Impressive performance offsets VQMS's complexity
Test-lab automation software that leverages virtualization to ease fundamental IT operations has started to emerge.
Just two products currently compete in this market space: Surgient VQMS (Virtual QA/Test Management System) and Akimbi Slingshot. I reviewed Akimbi Slingshot software earlier this year and found it to be a good solution. In the intervening period, VMware bought Akimbi and is enhancing Slingshot, which it plans to integrate with its VMware Lab Manager, currently in beta.
VQMS is a powerful, high-end solution that will please IT managers. At its core, it mirrors the capabilities of Akimbi Slingshot, setting up, deploying, copying, and tearing down complex multiserver configurations of virtual machines. Surgient then adds several enterprise-friendly features, such as an advanced scheduling system and a reporting module that’s mostly oriented toward tracking resource utilization. The trade-off to these benefits is that running VQMS is a complex and, at times, frustrating experience.
Surgient’s core business is hosting virtualized apps, especially for training and demos. This hosted model has deeply influenced the design of VQMS.
VQMS has two principal modules. The main console, called VCS (Virtualization Control Server), sits on one server and uses software agents to monitor VMs running on other systems, called hosts. These hosts -- which can run VMware ESX Server, GSX Server, or Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 -- are generally aggregated into pools. Support for Xen is under consideration.
Separate library servers store images of VMs that can be cloned and instantiated on the host systems. These libraries also hold snapshot images taken while a VM is running. Likewise, configurations consisting of multiple VMs can be saved to disk for replay at a later point. The library server can reside on one of the other servers or be standalone -- it’s mostly a storage resource.
The VCS management console is elegant and uncluttered. An admin can easily set up and deploy configurations, as well as manage VMs and related resources after some initial training. Other screens are equally uncluttered, but less intuitive: They require practice to locate important items. And regular usage is needed to recall how actions should be sequenced -- a recurring, but crucial, complexity. An upcoming release is designed to simplify this aspect.
Setting up a configuration involves copying VM images from the library, provisioning them with unique IP addresses, and optionally placing them inside what Surgient calls a NAIL (network abstraction and isolation layer). This feature installs a software router in the configuration that will perform MAC (media access control) and IP address translation. The address translation is important for enabling the saved configuration to run even while the original configuration is still running. Because these configurations cannot have the same MAC addresses or IP addresses, they’re cloaked to the outside world via the software router. Meanwhile, within the configuration, the original IP addresses and MACs are preserved -- a critical feature if an application is tied to a specific MAC address.