Taming the virtual beast: Part II

FastScale, Hyperic, LeoStream, PlateSpin offer disparate views of VM control

In this second of three test pieces focusing on virtual machine management, Network World Lab Alliance member Tom Henderson reviews three commercial products and one open source project that all take a different route to controlling a piece of the overall problem of managing large scale virtual machine deployments.

In the first part of our series on virtual machine hosting and management applications, we took a deep dive into the management capabilities offered as part of three popular virtualization hosting applications: EMC’s VMware, XenSource’s XenEnterprise and Microsoft’s interim VM host, Virtual Server 2005.

In this installment of tests, we examine one more up and coming VM platform from Virtual Iron and the wares it provides for management

We also dig into four standalone software packages from start-ups FastScale, LeoStream and PlateSpin and the open source Hyperic project to assess how their tools can help IT administrators provision, secure and perform the day-to-day grunt work that contain the worrying side effects of VM sprawl. (Compare physical and virtual server management tools in our revamped Server Management Buyer's Guide.)

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Throughout this series of VM management tests, we’ve identified five areas that need to be addressed in order to make VM management a workable venture in a large deployment (see “What needs to be managed" for full description of each):

• How are VM snapshots versions assembled and subsequently tracked?

• How are moves, adds and changes of VM hosts, their guests, the kind of applications used on them administered?

• How is VM and application availability monitored?

• How are user and administrative roles managed across VMs?

• What forensics mechanisms are available to help determine why a VM was drastically altered in any way?

Three of the management products tested in this round home in on that first management pillar: building and deploying virtual machines.

FastScale’ Composer Suite offers the highest degree of control over migrating operating system and application processes into virtual environments. Additionally, its unique porting process does a wonderful job of stuffing many VM instances on a single host server.

The strength of LeoStream’s P>V lies in its simplicity. It zeros in on converting physical servers to virtual ones fast. PlateSpin’s PowerConvert aims to be an egalitarian provisioning product that seemingly doesn’t care which virtual or physical host platform you are working with.

But if you want to monitor and manage VM operating system instances and keep in touch with the applications running on them, Hyperic HQ offers an egalitarian (read open source) monitoring and management framework for VMWare environments once you get it assembled.

Hyperic still falls short of a complete VM management package that seems to have become a bit of a Holy Grail for us seeing as we’ve tested eight product placing claim to this market but none that we can say yet truly dominate it. Our final round of testing to be published early next year will include commercial products that touch on at least three areas of our virtual management wish list.

(Compare physical and virtual server management tools in our revamped Server Management Buyer's Guide.)

Henderson is principal researcher and Dvorak is a researcher for ExtremeLabs in Indianapolis. They can be reached at thenderson@extremelabs.com.

NW Lab Alliance

Henderson is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

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