As server virtualization becomes more prevalent in data centers of all sizes, network management software vendors
are trying to help network professionals gain visibility and control over the technology.
"I've been waiting for this to happen for the past year -- for the network management vendors to step up and start taking on virtualization," said Tracy Corbo, senior analyst for IDC's network and services practice.
Corbo said many organizations are suffering from virtualization sprawl. Virtual servers, as they scale upward, tend to create much more traffic on the network, as dozens of virtual machines are hosted on a single host server.
"Over time, that's a lot more network traffic and it's got to be managed and monitored with traditional network management tools," she said. Virtualization software makers like VMware offer tools that can alert IT administrators when a server goes down, but those tools can't analyze how virtualization is affecting the network. "That's what you want to be able to understand, because now we have people moving really critical applications over to virtualized servers with the whole consolidation and reusing of resources," she said. "You really need to know what's going on. Virtualization traffic can't be a mystery."
Last month, two network management vendors, SolarWinds and PacketTrap Networks, introduced new, free virtualization management modules to their core products that are compatible with VMware's technology. SolarWinds has released a free tool, VM Monitor, which network engineers can use to track the activity of VMware ESX host servers and the virtual machines that run on them. The technology is also integrated into SolarWinds' flagship network management tool, Orion. PacketTrap has added a virtualization monitoring module to its flagship product, Perspective.
Kenny van Zant, chief product strategist for SolarWinds, said network professionals have been angst-ridden over server virtualization because the technology allows server administrators to move virtual servers from one physical device to another and to create new virtual servers on the fly as workloads demand them. This can increase the amount of traffic coming in and out of physical servers, but quite often network administrators can't see the change until it's too late.
"They are basically begging for visibility, because the one thing that's different about virtualization is in real time it can impact how your network is constructed," van Zant said. "It's the equivalent of letting a server guy walk into your wiring closet and unplug a wire from one port and put it in another without telling the network guy."
Network administrators don't want to ask the server team for access to a management tool like VMware's VirtualCenter, van Zant said. They'd rather have visibility through the network management tools they use to run the rest of the infrastructure they are responsible for.
Matt Bolton, vice president of products for PacketTrap, said several companies are offering virtualization monitoring point products that give network managers visibility into virtual environments. But he said network managers need a product that is integrated into the same technology that they use to manage the rest of the network. Bolton added that monitoring is just the first step for network management vendors to take with virtualization. These tools also need to allow network administrators to take action once they have information about the network traffic generated by virtual machines. Virtualization monitoring has been integrated into Perspective's network management features so that administrators can take action, such as shutting down and restarting a virtual machine or a host machine that is getting unstable.
"We'll be able to identify if not enough resources have been allocated to a specific virtual machine," Bolton said. "We'll also be able to see if the virtual infrastructure as a whole is bringing down the network infrastructure in terms of traffic and degradation. And we'll be able to monitor virtualized environments in real time along with the infrastructure, so [network administrators] won't have to do that separately."
Corbo said she expects to see other vendors, including major infrastructure management vendors such as IBM and HP, offer virtualization management capabilities for network managers. She said virtualization is ultimately driving IT to break down the management silos that exist in the data center, which will require vendors to think more broadly and allow information to be shared across network, server and application teams.
"The network engineer does his part, the server guy manages the servers and virtual servers," Corbo said. "But what's happening is, because people need to understand the impact of performance across a link, they can't just use individual tools. A single point solution is somewhat limiting."
Vendors like SolarWinds and Perspective generally serve small and midsized companies where the division of labor in IT isn't as stark, and point solutions can serve an important role, she said.
Network management vendors recognize that virtualization is breaking down silos, according to van Zant.
"I don't think anyone thinks that we're done as an industry with understanding how these groups are coming together on this topic," he said. SolarWinds felt that visibility was the top pain point for its customers. "Now they can go back and look at the status of a virtual machine and be able to make sense of events that are happening on their network, whereas before they couldn't. It's not the end game. The end game is more sophisticated control. But you have to walk before you can run."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor