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Monthly Archives: March 2007

In praise of VMware Server: 5 Tips

I asked another VMware employee recently if VMware Server could run on a certain piece of hardware, and he replied: "If you could load Linux on a toaster, it would run VMware Server." While that’s glossing over some details (system requirements are on page 5 of the VMware Server Admin Manual (pdf)), the fact is it runs on Windows Server, many Linux distros, and a wide range of hardware. Here’s to VMware Server!

Link: The Downeys » Blog Archive » VMware Server in Production. (Five tips on VMware Server)

I’m an old hand at VMware. I began using it back in the late 90s
when the company was still very young. Along the way, I’ve picked up
quite a bit of knowledge of the product. Although VMware’s ESX Server
offering is really “where it’s at”, when VMware Server was released
early last year it brought true “server” virtualization within reach of
small IT shops with very tiny budgets (like The Linux Fix!)

But first off, VMware Server is no replacement for ESX Server. ESX
is a very robust part of the Virtual Infrastructure, within which you
can do almost magical things. However if you have only a handful of
VMs, or are running a small shop were you’d like to just set things up
“proper” without ganging up all software onto one OS installation to
keep things clean, VMware Server is a great way to make sure your
getting the most of out the money you’ve invested into your server
equipment. Especially since it doesn’t involve investing any more
money–an especially great fit for us!

One misnomer is that VMware Server isn’t “stable” or enough of a
“performer” for production use. This is absolutely wrong: VMware Server
clunks along happily. For example, our environment regularly goes as
much as six months without needing to take it down–and generally for
some unrelated reason or to simply upgrade VMware itself.

VDI roundup

Brian Madden wrote a previous paper on VDI (VMware Desktop Infrastructure — using virtual desktops on virtual infrastructure) and SBC (server-based computing, using a terminal server or Citrix Presentation Server), where he laid out nicely the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. He also has the clearest explanation of the Citrix Ardence vDisk and streaming technology that I have seen.

In the real world, no single approach is right for every situation, and now Brian follows up with an article talking about how he sees the two blending in your organization and sees it as sort of an 80-20 split:

How to address the  "other" 20%

VDI is not the be-all end-all to application delivery. Terminal
Server-based SBC is a good foundation. … This means that VDI technology is useful in any scenario
where you have power users or users who need strange,
non-terminal-server-compatible applications, but where the users still
need the flexibility associated with traditional SBC environments.
(Examples include connecting to applications from anywhere, over slow
connections, etc.)

Massimo re Ferre’ then makes a good comment on the article from a real-world perspective — yes, 80% of apps could be delivered with SBC, but why aren’t they, and can VDI help?

Scott Lowe has published two recent articles around VDI: one a review of Leostream Connection Broker:

It may be that some of the other CBs out there also work as well as
Leostream; I don’t know since I haven’t had the opportunity to work
with all of them (note to vendors:  I will delete blatant marketing pitches in the comments).  I do know that the Leostream product works well thus far.

It took me a little bit of time to get accustomed to how the
Leostream broker works (different terminology, I suppose), but once I
understood how it works I found it pretty easy to make it do what I
wanted it to do.  The pieces are all interconnected, though, so allow
me to walk through a set of steps in the event you find yourself using
the Leostream product in the future.

and another on using Login Consultants’ Flex Profile Kit, which

allows administrators to selectively save portions of a user’s
profile to a simple file, which can then be reapplied at next logon. … Using this functionality, we can mimic the effect of a roaming profile
without having to modify any user objects in Active Directory (and thus
limiting the impact to hosted desktops only).

MIchel Roth of Login Consultants runs the very fine thincomputing.net blog, by the way.

Martijn Lohmeijer‘s VDI project is progressing again, and this time he’s getting a demo of the Wyse S10.

And the VMTN VDI Forum keeps going strong as well, with two of the longest threads in the world: VDI Resources and Connection Brokers Summary.


Bad benchmark reality-checked by Slashdot readers

[Updated: see below]

There are some good reasons that VMware wants pre-publishing review of benchmarks using our software. There are also good reasons not to like this policy, and my personal view is that it probably should be phased out at some point. However, we see problems with virtual performance testing over and over again. Virtualization benchmarking is hard, and virtualization is still so new that people love to take ancedotes and generalize to the usefulness of virtualization technologies, for all time.

Case in point: this recent benchmark got picked up by Slashdot today: Load Testing a Virtual Web Application. It really isn’t a good test: they use VMware Server 1.0.1 (we don’t recommend using Server for high-throughput production uses!) instead of ESX Server, they don’t tune anything, etc.

The Slashdot users, however, give a good picture of real-world usage in the comments.  Read some excerpts after the jump…

As always, talk to people who are virtualizing their infrastructure today to get the real scoop on the the limitations and the benefits.


[Update: See also Comparing ESX Server and VMware Server using VMmark. Thank you, VMware performance team!]

[Update 2: While my main point was that the Slashdotters recognized that the benchmark wasn’t correct and didn’t reflect the value they see every day in their virtual infrastructure in their own data centers, the commenters do exhibit some common misconceptions about what can be done with today’s virtualization technologies: for instance, that you can’t run a production database in virtual infrastructure. See the graph on page 11 of this paper on DB2 scalability or just ask for examples on the VMTN Forums to see what people are doing in the real world right now.]

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VMworld 2007 Call for Presentations

It’s time once again for VMworld – the leading virtualization industry event! This year’s event will be held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA on September 11-13, and is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees from across the industry. Submit Your Proposals Today. The deadline for submissions is April 27, 2007.

Join VMware for a full day of virtualization

A full day of virtualization in your city:

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June 12, 2007

May 31, 2007

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Washington D.C.
June 06, 2007

» Register Now

Welcome to  VMware Symposia 2007

why over 20,000 IT organizations use VMware virtualization products to
address business objectives such as consolidating servers, optimizing
IT resources, reducing power and cooling costs, enabling cost-effective
disaster recovery and reducing desktop management costs.

is bringing together virtualization experts, customers, partners and
industry analysts to provide you with a one-day virtualization event
including educational tracks, networking opportunities and live demos.

The full day will ensure you can:

    how virtualization increases utilization rates for x86 servers from
    your current 5% to over 60%. Provision new applications in seconds, not
    with virtualization experts, customers, partners and industry analysts.
    See live demos of virtualization solutions; and
  • VIRTUALIZE your IT department and  create a more flexible and dynamic IT environment.

Leave the day with free software to jump start your plans to virtualize your IT infrastructure.

Don’t miss the regional virtualization event of  the year!

Register today.

[If you attend the symposia and blog about it, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll try to link to you. Apologies in advance to everyone on the west coast and outside the US. –jtroyer at vmware]

Five more ways to screw up virtualization

Five more ways to screw up virtualization from Computerworld’s Robert Mitchell:

Too much, too quickly. Once virtualization takes hold, it can grow rapidly in many directions
and become difficult to manage — a phenomenon that Matt Dattilo, vice
president and CIO at PerkinElmer Inc. in Waltham, Mass., calls "VM
creep." …

Stumbling on security. In the rush to virtualize servers, it’s easy to mix servers with
different security requirements. "Do you want to consolidate a server
in the DMZ with one behind it?" …

Failure to sell the benefits
. While virtualization may sound like a good idea to IT organizations,
the idea doesn’t always sit well with users. The problem is, many
organizations don’t know how to sell the benefits to constituents. …

Falling into the departmental divide
. Many departments have evolved to support their own applications over
time. The economies of centralized virtualization and server
consolidation tend to cut horizontally across departmental applications
fiefdoms. …

The licensing trap. While virtualization can substantially reduce the numbers of servers
through consolidation, if you don’t plan right, it can actually
increase software licensing costs, users warn. …

If that sounds like it might be you, may I introduce you to some very nice VMware Certified Professionals? They can help.

[Update: See also 44% unable to declare virtualization deployments a success  via virtualization.info, VMblog.com, vi411.org. It’s not rocket science, but your organizational readiness is key.]

The hypervisor and the whole solution

Two comments on the recent back and forth on hypervisor performance. Both bloggers use VMware Infrastructure in their jobs every day, just so you know their biases going in.

Geert Baeke:

The results are interesting because performance is very similar. But
is this enough to conclude that the XenSource product is a valid alternative to the VI3 offering? We think not and this for several

  1. It is important for our customers to use a
    product that has established itself in the market. The XenSource
    product is not there yet and will need some time to mature.
  2. The
    management tools have to be top-notch. Our experience shows that most
    customers virtualize Windows systems and are primarily running Windows
    in their environment. They do not want to mess with Linux configuration
    and management so it is important that the management products allow
    this. VI Client with VI3 comes very close to this need although some
    actions do require some command line knowledge.
  3. Hardware
    compatibility and support. ESX 3.0.1 supports a wide array of hardware
    and storage devices. Installation and configuration is very
    straightforward. XenSource’s products are not at that level yet.

(Note Geert is now trying out XenEnterprise (part 1, part 2) to compare for himself.)

Kent A aka Bowulf:

The trick is not virtualization of a system or even virtualization
at near native performance — no matter how difficult current Microsoft
products make it look. There are or will be many products that will do
this in due time. If all you want is lowest cost of obtaining
virtualization and only have 10-15 servers, perhaps that is all that
matters. However, there are a number of other “must haves” — such as
VMotion. If I have to take a physical host down — do I really want to
affect 20-30 VMs as well. As Geert Baeke correctly points out, the
management capabilities in Virtual Center far outstrip the other
competitors shipping products. Enterprise data centers need that level
of granularity of control and capabilities — in fact they often need
more as evidenced by the throngs of companies buying 3rd party add-ons
like ESX Charter and P2V applications, like Leostream.

Where is the 3rd party industry surrounding Xen products at this
point? I am not saying this to discount the Xensource product only to
highlight the differences. Scalability of solutions is just one area
that this lack of features shows. (Although VMware’s products also face scalability on the extreme end as well– >100 ESX hosts & 1500 VMs) Where are the Data Centers using 1500 VMs running upon Xen outside the hosting world?


Video: Virtualization vs. licensing


David Berlind of ZDNet with a nice little post and video on the complexities of software licensing with virtualization. Actually "little" is the operative word here, because although the whiteboard ends up appropriately messy by the end, he spends the first 3 minutes explaining (hosted) virtualization, leaving only about a minute at the end to talk about licensing. Still may be a good video for a newbie in your organization. Link: » Video: Virtualization vs. standard software licensing practices | Berlind’s Testbed | ZDNet.com.

Some of the same confusion exists around application software.  One
fear software companies have is that people will use virtual machine
technology to build little multi-user mainframes (sort of like Citrix)
where anybody can use the built-in remote access technology to simply
take control of a VM on a computer and run their software remotely,
that way. If XYZ software company says it’s OK for me to copy its
software to as many VMs as I want, but only one one system,
technically, I could let lots of users access that one system remotely
and abuse the license.

Hypervisor? That’s no hypervisor!

I am reading the latest review of desktop virtualization in InfoWorld and, as often is the case, Workstation wins.

Workstation 6.0 solidifies the company’s position as the dominant
player in developer and product support circles. A combination of
class-leading features and excellent scalability make VMware
Workstation the only choice for serious virtualization users.

The author, Randall Kennedy, has benchmarked a beta build of Workstation, which is just silly because we include debug code in our betas that slows them down. He still recommends us, so I don’t want to complain, but c’mon, don’t use beta code for performance evaluations.

However, there’s one correction that just has to be made. The following
paragraph just isn’t right.

As I mentioned above, Parallels is the only
product in this segment to employ a hypervisor — a thin layer of
software that runs below the host OS and provides tighter integration
between the guest OS and the system hardware. It’s a major
architectural advantage for Parallels, one that pays off in the form of
class-leading performance. Parallels outran all comers during multi-VM
benchmark testing …, especially in those tests involving heavy local disk I/O.

When VMware uses the term "hypervisor" — when most people use the term hypervisor — we mean a Type 1 "bare-metal" hypervisor.
This is a hypervisor that sits underneath the operating system on the
bare metal of the server hardware itself. ESX Server is a Type 1
hypervisor, as is Xen. This is as opposed to a Type 2
hypervisor, which runs on top of a "host" OS such as Windows or Linux. Parallels Workstation, like VMware Workstation and VMware
Server, sits on top of a host OS. I’ve been told that Microsoft also
uses the term in some Microsoft Virtual Server collateral. Calling any
of them a hypervisor is just plain confusing to customers and
journalists alike, as is seen in the above paragraph.

Now what Parallels probably means is that their virtual machine
monitor takes advantage of hardware assist (Intel VT and AMD-V) on
newer processors. VMware Workstation also takes advantage of Intel VT
for 64-bit guests, but for 32-bit guests and AMD CPUs, we have a tuned
binary translation (BT) monitor. In fact we’ve shown
that for normal workloads, our BT monitor is as fast or faster than VT,
and therefore we’re more interested in the next generation of these technologies.
So there are small differences in approach between Parallels
Workstation and VMware Workstation, but none that would qualify as a
"major architectural advantage," and indeed in our tests a release build of VMware Workstation performs better than Parallels across the board.

So, be careful about the terminology. Using a word like "hypervisor" is not a magic bullet. VMware Workstation is just as much of a hypervisor as Parallels Workstation is. And when you evaluate software, please use a release build. People who actually need to use this stuff in their daily jobs will thank you for it.


New SAN cookbook hits shelves to good reviews

Alessandro Perilli of virtualization.info called it "remarkable" and said "It’s a worthwhile reading before your first project, the VCP certification exam, and even non-virtualized implementations." Vincent Vlieghe of Virtrix called it "a fine read." Joseph Foran of the new Server Virtualization Blog says "Overall, the paper gets 8 pokers." Magnus of the VMTN Forums says "It looks really good."

What are all these people raving about? It’s the new 219 page cookbook from VMware,  SAN System Design and Deployment Guide. It describes Storage Area Network (SAN) options supported with VMware Infrastructure 3 and
also describes benefits, implications, and disadvantages of various
design choices.

Now Joseph does point out one reason why we published this guide:

Most of the reason that VMware published this document can be summed up by this quote from page 130:

“Many of the support requests that VMware receives
concern performance optimization for specific applications. VMware has
found that a majority of the performance problems are self-inflicted,
with problems caused by misconfiguration or less-than-optimal
configuration settings for the particular mix of virtual machines, post
processors, and applications deployed in the environment.”

I have to admit, that had me laughing. It was the whole “blame the
user” mentality that I found funny – I’m glad VMware put the paper out
there, but really, they had to expect that the 80/20 rule of
troubleshooting would apply to them too – 80% of all problems are human
error. The guide does a good job of helping avoid those pitfalls, and
goes into detail on setting up your SAN to perform well.

Joseph seems to be laughing with us, not at us, but I do want to clarify this is not ‘blame the user." Blaming the user would be telling them to go take a long walk off a short pier to the nearest bookstore and get educated on SANs before touching VMware Infrastructure. Blaming the user would be just finger pointing at their hardware or storage vendor when they call support telling us their virtual infrastructure is slow. This is helping the user.

VMware Infrastructure is a powerful tool and a new architecture for the data center. It’s like any power tool — you can cut down a lot of trees with a chain saw, but you can also slice off your own limbs. Many companies are buying their first shared storage when they go virtual, and others have to rethink how that shared storage is used. That’s why we work with a channel of resellers and consultants to help you succeed. That’s why a VCP exam requires a hands-on class, to make sure we don’t have "paper VCPs" running around. That’s why we offer education and professional services. I was reading our business continuity jumpstart curriculum the other day, and it touches on every single layer of your data center — it’s practically a survey course on the entirety of modern IT. That’s why 9 times out of 10 on the VMTN Forums when somebody’s infrastructure isn’t performing correctly, the expert troubleshooters who hang out there help the poster find out it’s the application or the OS that is misconfigured, not the virtual machine. (The tenth time it’s a workload that should never have been virtualized.)

We want you to succeed and get big raises, all while VMotioning your virtual machines around the data center while you’re eating your lunch at your desk, not at midnight when your spouse is wondering when you’ll be home. And to do that, your SAN needs to be set up correctly, so go read up on it