Introduction and Tutorials on Server Virtualization

February 27, 2009

Virtual lab automation (VLA) is a management technology that helps users leverage virtualization platforms (hypervisors) to consolidate and automate lab IT infrastructure so that software applications can be delivered and maintained more quickly, cost-effectively and reliably. If you are considering VLA in your virtual labs, you will first need to have a basic degree of familiarity with virtualization to fully understand, appreciate and subscribe to the benefits of VLA.

Here are a set of resources that should help readers get basic familiarity with virtualization technology. If there are other compelling “Virtualization 101” resources that you think should be included here, do drop me a note.

This article is a great introduction to the technology, the benefits and what new users should look for in virtualization. I have pulled out a few key and relevant statements from the article (bold mine):

However, industry watchers report that most companies begin their exploration of virtualization through application testing and development. Virtualization has quickly evolved from a neat trick for running extra operating systems into a mainstream tool for software developers. Rarely are applications created today for a single operating system; virtualization allows developers working on a single workstation to write code that runs in many different environments, and perhaps more importantly, to test that code. This is a noncritical environment, generally speaking, and so it’s an ideal place to kick the tires.

And in response to “What you should look for in virtualization?”

In a word: management. The core hypervisor technology that decouples the application stack from the underlying hardware is well on its way to commoditization. The large enterprise software vendors (Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, BMC and CA, for example) are including it in their product suites, and the standalone virtualization vendors are giving it away. Where they differ is in their ability to provide tools for managing, monitoring and optimizing the allocation of virtualized resources. Look for solutions that provide easy-to-use tools for gathering statistics and applying dynamic policies to better allocate your physical resources among the virtual consumers of those resources.

This is a nice video that explains both the basics of virtualization and also focuses on the importance and relevance of management and provisioning in a virtualized environment.

Another very good video delivered by the Dell CTO that explains the basics of virtualization. He explains the concept of a VM nicely and also points towards relevant trends including the hypervisor becoming a commodity.

Well written article that talks about the advantages and disadvantages of virtualization and also includes a discussion around decision factors around virtualization. From the article, one of the benefits that the writer mentions “Test and Development Agility”.

Test and Development Agility

Part of the advantage of business agility derives also from test and development agility. Staff can develop and test new capabilities side-by-side on multiple operating systems, and benefit from faster build/test/rebuild cycles (especially across multiple operating systems). Virtualization reduces mundane deployment processes for production implementation to minutes instead of days or weeks, reduces procurement time, and results in fewer hardware compatibility issues.

And by the way, one of the key disadvantages that the writer mentions about virtualiation is “Image Proliferation”. You should note that VLA management tools help actively combat and control VM sprawl.

Image Proliferation

Operating system and server virtualization can lead to a rapid proliferation of system images because it is so much easier and faster to deploy a new virtual image than to deploy a new physical server without approval or hardware procurement. This can impose very high management and maintenance costs and potentially lead to significant licensing issues, including higher costs and compliance risks. Enterprises need to manage their virtual environment with the same level of discipline as their physical infrastructure, using discovery tools to detect and prevent new systems from being created without following proper process.

The relevant piece from this article would be the section on “Selling virtualization to the development groups”.

Selling virtualization to development groups
Virtualization can be a great benefit to application developers. Developers are typically concerned that their applications may not run properly on virtual hardware. Virtualization actually provides the same exact virtual hardware to each virtual machine which will provide consistent hardware to developers across all environments, such as development, testing, production, etc., eliminating potential problems that may be caused by using different hardware on different servers running the same applications.

Developers might also be concerned that application vendors will not support their products in virtual environments. Although most vendors do provide support for their products running on virtual servers, it’s a good idea to make a list of your applications and get statements of support from each vendor who will usually have this available on their website.

To make the case to your development team:

  • Explain the concept of virtual hardware and how it differs from physical hardware.
  • Show support statements from application vendors.
  • Explain resource pools and how features like resource schedulers work.
  • Demonstrate a tool like Snapshot Manager and show how to clone servers.

In addition to this, I would point your developers/test staff to the article:: Features and functionality in Virtual Lab Automation solutions.

I Get Virtualization Now. So, What’s VLA Management Adding to the Mix?

Server Virtualization with VLA Management Benefits

Server Virtualization with VLA Management Benefits

Now that you are familiar with basic server virtualization, you may find the following reading about virtual lab automation and management applications useful. They talk about specific benefits/use cases of VLA over and above basic server virtualization and how a VLA management application adds tremendous value to the virtualization platform in the dev/test environment.

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Citrix to OEM VMLogix LabManager and StageManager

February 23, 2009

VMLogix made a press announcement about a strategic OEM agreement with Citrix Systems Inc. Below is the full press release. We also spoke with David Marshall to answer some questions regarding the announcement. If you have any questions or comments, please drop us a comment here. Excerpt from Sameer Dholakia’s conversation with David Marshall:

VMLogix prospects and customers will be doubly assured that they are relying on and working with a trusted, world-class vendor offering the very best of VM management applications. This agreement sends a clear, reinforcing signal to prospects and customers that VMLogix is best-in-class in the spaces it competes in. Naturally, Citrix did not select VMLogix as its OEM partner without evaluating all the other independent players in the market. For existing VMLogix customers, the announcement validates the decision they made to select us. For VMLogix prospects, it will provide a nice proxy for their own decision process. Finally, the agreement brings global distribution through the Citrix channel, thus making our technology even easier to access and acquire.

VMLogix will continue to support, innovate, and independently offer VMLogix management products on the Microsoft and VMware hypervisors. VMLogix also remains committed to supporting other hypervisors (e.g., Sun, Red Hat, Novell, and Oracle) as they become widely available in due course.

[Update 1] You can find a demo of the Citrix Essentials Automated Lab Management Demo here.

[Update 2] Here are a set of other articles that have covered and talked about this OEM announcement.

VMLogix Adds Application Lifecycle Management to Citrix Virtualization Solutions

Integrated solution will provide interoperability by bringing VMLogix’s unparalleled hypervisor-agnostic virtual lab automation and stage management capabilities to both XenServer and Hyper-V

PALO ALTO, Calif. – February 23, 2009 – VMLogix, Inc., a leading provider of virtual machine management solutions designed for software companies and IT organizations, today announced a strategic OEM agreement with Citrix Systems, Inc. that will bring VMLogix application lifecycle management capabilities to its new Citrix® Essentials™ product line for XenServer™ and Hyper-V™, providing users with a broad range of capabilities and the freedom to develop, test and stage software on multiple virtualization platforms.   These capabilities were announced today by Citrix as part of a new product line called Citrix Essentials for XenServer and Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V.

“VMLogix has been a value-added partner on the XenServer platform for years, and this agreement is a natural extension of our valued and mutually-beneficial relationship,” said Lou Shipley, group vice president and general manager of the XenServer product group at Citrix. “We selected VMLogix because they deliver the best-in-class solutions in their market and their hypervisor-agnostic architecture aligns well to our desire to provide customers with an open, non-proprietary virtualization platform and management portfolio.  Integrating VMLogix technology into the new Citrix Essentials product line will provide our customers with a robust, flexible, feature-rich solution offering critical application lifecycle management capabilities, and offer our channel partners a broader solution set.”

Delivering Hypervisor-Agnostic Application Lifecycle Management
With most enterprises and data centers deploying more than one virtualization platform, hypervisor-agnostic application lifecycle management tools will become essential to managing the virtual infrastructure. VMLogix products are hypervisor-agnostic and offer a number of benefits including:

•    VMLogix LabManager: allows customers to consolidate and automate lab IT infrastructure in order to deliver and maintain software applications more quickly, cost-effectively and reliably. LabManager allows development, test and support teams to build, snapshot, share and deploy production-like environments on-demand across virtualization platforms. Companies can dramatically reduce the manual effort, time and IT resources required to develop and maintain higher quality software applications by using comprehensive automation capabilities, advanced team management and seamless integrations with leading solutions from HP and IBM.

•    VMLogix StageManager: enabling customers to manage the pre-production and staging infrastructure for IT operations. StageManager helps IT operations engineers create a customizable staging workflow and stage applications for comprehensive testing and production readying – helping reduce the risk of downtime, improving and enforcing the staging process and reducing the IT costs related to service staging.

“Our firm belief, and what we are hearing from customers, is that enterprise virtualization deployments are becoming increasingly heterogeneous, making them rely more heavily on management tools and capabilities,” said Sameer Dholakia, CEO of VMLogix. “This agreement clearly validates VMLogix as a best-in-class virtual machine management solution, and arms XenServer and Hyper-V users with an option that can accommodate their current needs and grow with them as they create a broader virtual infrastructure.  We look forward to supporting this strategic partnership and furthering our leadership in virtual machine management applications.”

About VMLogix
VMLogix provides virtual machine management solutions designed for software companies and IT organizations to use any of the leading virtualization platforms for consolidating test lab infrastructures, automating the software build and test process, and for managing the staging and delivery of applications into production. Companies worldwide use VMLogix technology to deliver software more quickly, cost-effectively and reliably than with any other solution on the market. VMLogix has partnerships with the industry’s most established technology companies including Citrix, IBM, Microsoft and VMware. VMLogix is a privately-held company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. The company has received funding from Bain Capital Ventures and Trilogy. For more information on VMLogix, visit http://www.vmlogix.com.

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VMLogix, VMLogix LabManager, VMLogix StageManager are trademarks of VMLogix, Inc. Citrix®, Citrix Essentials™ and XenServer™ are trademarks of Citrix Systems, Inc. and/or one or more of its subsidiaries, and may be registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. All other trademarks or registered trademarks are the properties of their respective owners.

Media contact:
Heather Fitzsimmons
Mindshare PR for VMLogix
650-947-7400
heather@mindsharepr.com

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Accessing Virtual Labs over a WAN

February 23, 2009

Virtual labs are centralized IT infrastructure that multiple users have access to in a policy driven self service manner. Typical use cases of these labs include software dev/test labs, software training labs and pre-sales/customer demo labs. Usually in these cases, users access the lab over a LAN environment (from within the corporate network) – but as the labs are used more extensively in the organization, users find the need to access the lab from outside the corporate network – i.e., over a WAN. For example, in demo and training lab environments a pre-sales engineer accesses the lab setup from outside the corporate network OR students access the training lab from outside the corporate network.

The challenge: When users access the lab over a WAN (from outside a secure corporate network), typically they are expected to install and configure a VPN (Virtual Private Network) client. This might be a difficult task, especially if the lab is a training setup and the external users are students trying to connect to the lab VM (Virtual Machine) to get their work done.

The Solution and Its Benefits: VMLogix LabManager can be configured to allow remote external users to access VM consoles over the WAN through the web browser without the need for a VPN client setup done explicitly (Clarification made on June 2, 2009: Customers usually have a SSL gateway type device to handle the security over the WAN. This integration capability in LabManager does not guarantee the security over the WAN. Instead, when configured in LabManager it allows external end users to access the individual VM consoles in the end user’s web browser directly). The benefit of this solution is that the end user (e.g., the student) does not need to delve into setting up and configuring the VPN client. For the end user, things just work – transparently!

In our experience in head to head evaluations with VMware Lab Manager, we have found multiple customers who have found the above as a significant benefit that is offered by the VMLogix solution (clarification note added on June 2, 2009 – configuring a ultra-VNC repeater module to work with VMLogix LabManager is easy). Naturally, they chose us as the platform for their virtual labs.

Here is a diagrammatic representation of the discussion above.

– Srihari Palangala

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Accessing Virtual Labs Over the WAN (for security over the WAN a SSL type gateway device is recommended)

Accessing Virtual Labs Over the WAN (for security over the WAN a SSL type gateway device is recommended)


Cast your Vote – Great Indian Developer Awards 2009

February 17, 2009

If you’re a developer/tester you might want to vote for your favorite software engineering products in the Great Indian Developer Awards 2009. The nominations have been completed and voting is open till April 3, 2009.

VMLogix LabManager has been nominated for the awards — it would be nice (and we would much appreciate it!) if you could consider voting for VMLogix LabManager in the “Testing” category.

If you are new to the area of virtual lab automation and need further information about the LabManager product, you can check the product page here or you can drop us a technical question re: VMLogix LabManager. If you would like to test drive the product prior to casting your vote, go ahead and register for a free evaluation of the LabManager product.

Thanks for your time!

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Managing Linked Clones in Your Test Lab

February 12, 2009

We have talked about linked clones in the past in these two posts on this blog:

There is little doubt and debate over the tremendous benefit of using linked clones in a lab environment (where the rate of change is high, the collaboration between users is high and many users access the shared lab infrastructure).

In an environment where there is a high degree of flux, and linked clones are used abundantly it is difficult for IT administrators and lab users to keep track of the “linked clones tree”. I.e., what are the dependencies between the various VMs? Which VMs are parents – which ones are children etc.

Some of our customers have provided this feedback based on their experience in very active VMLogix LabManager deployments. To address this, a shortly upcoming release of VMLogix LabManager will include the ability for users and administrators to view the linked clone tree and dependencies. A screenshot is below:

The linked clones tree which shows the virtual machine dependency for every linked clone

The linked clones tree which shows the virtual machine dependency for every linked clone

And here is a brief movie that demonstrates this functionality:

If you would like an evaluation license of VMLogix LabManager, do make a request on our website.

– Srihari Palangala

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The Total Cost of Ownership – VMLogix and VMware Lab Management Solutions

February 5, 2009

[Note Added on July 14, 2009: VMware has released their Lab Manager version 4.0 yesterday, where  they support and work with VMware vCenter Server 4.0 and vSphere 4.0. The math and comparisons here are reflective of the previous version of VMware Lab Manager. I’ll retain this table to give readers a ‘historical’ feel for how the costs compare with the 2 solutions. If you’re curious what’s coming in the next version of VMLogix LabManager, then check this document and this movie.]

Sometimes it is difficult to sift through product dependencies and requirements to understand the true cost of ownership of a solution. Virtual lab management is one such category of solutions. Take for example the pricing and cost comparison between VMware and VMLogix solutions. You will find that VMLogix is a significantly lower priced alternative and one that has been beating VMware at the awards! How often have you come across solutions that are cheaper and better recognized in the industry?

What the comparison table below tells me is that for every 2 proc. managed host, you need to spend at least $2000 more and at least $6000 more for vCenter Server across the entire deployment for a VMware virtual lab management solution.

[Updated March 17, 2009]

If you look at the VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 costs on the VMware website (http://www.vmware.com/products/vi/buy.html) here is what you will find:

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 SKUs and Costs

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 SKUs and Costs (Screen capture taken from VMware's site at http://www.vmware.com/products/vi/buy.html)

Notice that only HA is available with VMware Virtual Infrastructure Standard. For vMotion and DRS, you need to buy Virtual Infrastructure Enterprise.

In light of this requirement, the comparison of the base cost for a 10 virtual host lab between VMware and VMLogix lab management solutions is provided below. Notice that for a 10 virtual host lab, the VMware solution requires base virtualization software infrastructure that is 5X more expensive. Can you justify that staggering cost difference to your company management in this environment?

By the way, you may find this previous post interesting reading as well – how VMLogix LabManager compares with VMware Lab Manager.

I’m therefore not surprised that customers are not very happy about this, as they sift through and really understand the dependencies!

– Srihari Palangala

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Here is how we view the costs between the two products stack up (I’m comparing the basic virtualization requirements in each case – the factors that really make the difference in the TCO calculation. This is cost comparison for a 10 virtual host lab):

Component VMware Lab Manager with HA, DRS and vMotion support VMware Lab Manager with HA support only VMLogix LabManager
Number of managed virtual hosts in the lab 10 10 10
Bare Hypervisor Requirement (2 proc managed host) 10 * $6,958 = $69,580

Need VI3 Enterprise, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $3,624 = $36,240

Need VI3 Standard, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $1,540 = $15,400

Needs only VI3 Foundation, incl. 1 year Gold support

vCenter Server $6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

$6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

No vCenter Server required
Cost of the Base Infrastructure = $75,624 = $42,284 = $15,400

Demo: How User Management Helps In Test Lab Operations

February 3, 2009

One of the benefits of using a virtual lab management tool over a bare hypervisor (e.g., VMware ESX, Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V) is the powerful user management functionality that is offered by virtual lab automation solutions. You can read a previous post where I discuss the benefits of a virtual lab management solution over a basic hypervisor.

How do the user management capabilities in virtual lab solutions help? I can see the following benefits:

  • Easily create user accounts and potentially add users to teams (e.g., all your testers would have individual accounts and be part of one or more teams; your developers would have separate accounts and be part of a different team etc.)
  • Plug in your user authentication model (e.g., AD) easily to interface into the virtual lab solution
  • Set the permissions on every user account – to control what lab resources the user has access to
  • Set quotas on every user account – so individual users remain within bounded limits in terms of lab resource utilization
  • Allow users to share lab resources (like configurations from a library, a software script etc.) with other lab users and teams (with varying permissions – read only, edit etc.)

I’ve recorded a brief movie that highlights some aspects of user management in a virtual lab solution. As always, would love to hear any comments and feedback from you.

– Srihari Palangala

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