Keeping Tabs on Virtual I/O

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In my last post, we took a look at the latest in virtualization management technologies: tools and systems designed to keep tabs on how your virtual environment is being used.

But that's only part of the equation. While virtualization management systems are great for combating virtual sprawl, even a modest number of VMs can tax your I/O infrastructure without the right management tools.

The dark secret about virtualization is that while it is relatively easy to partition a server into multiple instances to boost utilization, when the time comes to deliver data to the wider enterprise, those machines must still contend with the same physical I/O infrastructure. That means data coming in and going out is queued up one block at a time and processed in sequence, leading to severe bottlenecks in high workload environments.

Virtual I/O technology relieves the pressure by essentially partitioning physical I/O resources to make it seem each VM has its own network access. But even here, problems can occur without the proper visibility into the network.

This spring, a number of new virtual I/O management systems have hit the market. Among them is Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom SAN solution that adds real-time intelligence to VMware environments. The package includes a number of network instrumentation, measurement and analysis tools that monitor everything from the VM on the server to the LUN on the storage array, with all HBAs and switches in between. A feature called ProbeVM gathers data on utilization and performance at the virtual machine and correlates it with SAN data, so you get a better feel as to how provisioning on the server side will affect the array.

Emulex recently introduced a new automated management system in conjunction with its OneConnect converged network adapter. The OneCommand system has tools for deployment, dynamic provisioning, asset and connectivity management and I/O QoS maintenance. Automation is enabled with batch mode driver parameter and firmware updates, along with a number of diagnostic capabilities and tuning/scripting measures to tailor the I/O environment for specific servers, VMs or even applications.

For Dell users, the system of choice will likely be the management capabilities that come with Xsigo's I/O Director. The company recently signed a distribution agreement with Dell to include the system on PowerEdge servers and the PowerVault, Equalogic and Dell/EMC storage solutions. Aside from providing a 20 Gbps InfiniBand fabric, the Director offers a single-screen view of all VMs, virtual switches and I/O topologies, and offers SAN and iSCSI boot capabilities from any Fibre Channel or iSCSI LUN, a useful trick for repurposing server resources.

Xsigo also recently teamed up with VMware to integrate its management capabilities into the VMware Infrastructure 3 environment, offering it as a plug-in for the VirtualCenter 2.5 management console.

Virtualization removes many of the management headaches found in traditional server provisioning and resource allocation, but it brings on an all new set of challenges. Deploying virtualization into the data center without establishing a robust management infrastructure is likely to open you up to even greater performance problems than you started with.