Meeting virtualization management challenges

Trend toward services is forcing IT to think about management across systems that may have little in common

The sprawl of management consoles, the proliferation of data they provide, and the rising use of virtualization are adding challenges to corporations looking to more effectively manage mixed  Linux, Windows, and cloud environments.

Traditional standards are being tapped in order to bridge the platform divide and new ones are being created to handle technologies such as virtualization that create physical platforms running one technology but hosting virtual machines running something completely different.

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The goal is better visibility into what is going right or wrong -- and why -- as complexity rises on the computing landscape.

Some help is on the way. The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) last month began hammering out virtualization management standards it hopes will show up in products next year. Those standards will address interoperability, portability, and virtual machine life-cycle management, as well as incorporate time-honored management standards such as the Common Information Model (CIM).

Vendors such as Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix are on board with the DMTF and are creating and marketing their own cross-platform virtualization management tools for x86 machines. Linux vendors, including Novell and Red Hat , and traditional management vendors such as HP also are joining in.

To underscore the importance of heterogeneous management, Microsoft is supporting Linux within its virtualization management tools slated to ship by year-end rather than relying on third-party partners.

And the vendor said in April it will integrate the OpenPegasus Project, an open source implementation of the DMTF's CIM and Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM) standards, so it can extend its monitoring tools to other platforms.

The trend toward services is forcing IT to think about management across systems that may have little in common, including the same LAN. Services are increasingly made up of numerous application components that can be running both internally and externally, complicating efforts to oversee all the piece parts, their platforms and their dependencies.

The big four management vendors, BMC, CA, HP, and IBM, are handling the mixed-environment evolution by upgrading their monolithic platforms to better manage Linux as its use grows. And a crop of next-tier vendors, start-ups and open source players are angling for a piece of the pie by providing tools that work alone, as well as plug into the dominant management frameworks.

"We are starting to see IT put more mission-critical applications on Linux and from there you only start to see the stronger growth [of Linux]," says Ute Albert, marketing manager of HP's Insight management platform. In January, she says, HP will boost its Linux support with features HP already supports for Windows platforms, such as capacity planning.

Analyst firm the Enterprise Management Group reports that use of Linux on mainframes has grown 72 percent in the past two years while x86 Linux growth hit 57 percent.

In the trenches, users are moving to suck the complexity out of their environments and make sense not only of individual network and systems components but of composite services and how to aggregate data from multiple systems and feed results back to administrators and notification systems.

Console reduction
At Johns Hopkins University, managers are trying to reduce "console sprawl" in a management environment that stretches across 200 projects -- many with their own IT support in some nine research and teaching divisions, as well as healthcare centers institutes and affiliated entities.

Project leader pick their own applications and platforms with about 90 percent to 95 percent running Windows and 5 percent to 10 percent on Linux. There are also storage-area networks, network devices, Oracle software, Red Hat, VMware, EMC, IronPort e-mail relays, and hardware from Dell, HP, and IBM.

John Taylor, manager of the management and monitoring team, and Jamie Bakert, systems architect in the management and monitoring group, are responsible for 15,000 desktops and 1,500 servers, nearly 50 percent of the university's total environment.

"Our challenge is we do not want to create another support structure," says Taylor, who has standardized on Microsoft's System Center management tools anchored by Operations Manager 2007 and Configuration Manager 2007.

Because Taylor doesn't control what systems get rolled out, he is using Quest Software's Management Xtensions for System Center to support non-Windows infrastructure.

"Quest allows us to bring in anything with a heart beat," Bakert says.

And that allows for managing distributed applications, which incorporate multiple components on multiple platforms.

"Microsoft has a limited scope of what they are bringing into System Center at this point," he says.

For instance, Bakert uses Quest Xtensions to monitor IronPort relays that work with Microsoft Exchange to ensure everything in the e-mail service is monitored in one tool.

The Quest tools also let Bakert store security events on non-Windows machines so he can report on both Windows and non-Windows platforms, which helps with collecting compliance data.

Taylor and Bakert also are beta testing Microsoft's System Center Service Manager, slated to ship in early 2010, with hopes they can reduce System Center consoles from five to one.

Eventually, Service Manager's configuration management database will host data from Configuration Manager and Operations Manager, as well as incorporate ITIL, a set of best practices for IT services management, and the Microsoft Operations Framework.

Taylor and Bakert also are testing System Center's Virtual Machine Manager, slated to ship by year-end, which will manage Windows, the VMware hypervisor and Suse Linux guest environments.

Virtualization getting mixed management workout

Microsoft ironically had the title as first to support mixed hypervisor environments because it was last to release a hypervisor -- Hyper-V.

Without the benefit of the in-development Microsoft code, VMware, Novell, Red Hat, HP, and others are momentarily playing catch-up on cross-platform management support.

Novell is using its February 2008 acquisition of PlateSpin to support management across both physical and virtual environments. The company's existing partnership and interoperability agreement with Microsoft has yielded virtualization bundles and the company's acquisition of Managed Objects last week will give IT admins and business managers a unified view of how business services work across both physical and virtual environments.

"In the datacenter we see that people are not saying consolidate [on a platform], they are saying give me a universal remote," says Richard Whitehead, director of product marketing for data center solutions.

Red Hat also is developing its portfolio. Its February 2008 launch of the open source oVirt Project has a stated goal of producing management products for mixed environments.

"The oVirt framework will be used to control guests in a cloud environment, create pools of resources, create images, deploy images, provision images and manage the life cycle of those," says Mike Ferris, director of product strategy for the management business unit at Red Hat.

HP has aligned its HP Insight Dynamics -- Virtual Server Environment (VSE) with VMware and plans to add support for Microsoft's Hyper-V in the next release, according to HP's Albert. In addition, HP is increasing the feature set of its Linux management and monitoring support.

And while the vendors work on their tools, the DMTF is working on standards it hopes will be as common as existing DMTF standards CIM and WBEM.

The Virtualization Management Initiative (VMAN) released by the DMTF Sept. 16 is designed to provide interoperability and portability standards for virtual computing. The initiative includes the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) for packaging up and deploying one or more virtual machines to either Linux or Windows platforms. Tools that are based on VMAN will provide consistent deployment, management, and monitoring regardless of the hypervisor deployed.

"The truth is we have been working on this whole platform independence since 1998," says Winston Bumpus, president of the DMTF, in regard to the organization's goals.

Virtualization is only one of the DMTF's initiatives. In the next month, the group will start its interoperability certification program around its SMASH and DASH initiatives. The Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware (SMASH), used to unify data center management, includes the SMASH Server Management (SM) Command Line Protocol (CLP) specification, which simplifies management of heterogeneous servers in the data center. The Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware (DASH) provides standards-based Web services management for desktop and mobile client systems.

Open source
Standards efforts are being complemented by open source vendors who are aligning their source-code flexibility with the interoperability trend.

Upstarts such as GroundWork, Centeris, Hyperic, OpenQRM, Zenoss and Quest's Big Brother platform are working the open source route to build a united management front.

"We picked [tools] most people pick when they use open source, and we packaged them together," says Dave Lilly, CEO of GroundWork. The company's package includes 100 top open source projects, including Nagios, Apache and NMap.

GroundWork also includes a plug-in it wrote to integrate Windows systems using Microsoft's native Windows Management Instrumentation.

"We don't provide the entire tool set you may want, but we at least take the time and energy out of providing the monitoring infrastructure," Lilly says. Via standards, GroundWork can plug into other management tools such as service desk applications.

Other open source management resources include Open WS-Man, an XML SOAP-based specification for management using Web services standards. The project, which focuses on management of Linux and Unix systems, is an open source implementation of WS-Management, an industry standard protocol managed by the DMTF. There are other WS-Man variations such as the Java implementation called Wiseman.

"Interoperability is the end game," DMTF's Bumpus says. "You can have all the specs, but if you don't have interoperability who cares."

In today's evolving datacenters and services revolution it turns out a lot of IT managers are beginning to care very much.

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This story, "Meeting virtualization management challenges" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.