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Tips for using performance monitoring tools in a virtual environment

It's hardly news to anyone that enterprise infrastructure is becoming increasingly virtual, said David Williams, research vice president at Gartner Inc., an analyst firm based in Stamford, Conn. But what appears to come as a surprise to many is that monitoring has to change in the virtual enterprise.

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Traditional monitoring tools use preset policies to measure use and performance. The newer performance monitoring tools establish normal patterns of behavior among applications at various times of the day.

Sounds complex? That's because it is, although a lineup of new performance monitoring tools specifically for virtual environments aims to make life easier for IT staff. No matter what software you choose, keep these tips in mind to ensure the safe and successful monitoring of your virtualized environment.

Performance monitoring requires tiered SLAs

"Most enterprises have a networking team, a database team, a server team, and so forth; but they fail to connect the dots from one component to another," Williams said. "However, enterprises are moving toward thinking like a service provider. Under the threat of the cloud, IT has to get smart about it."

Efficiently monitoring service level agreements (SLAs) within an organization is pointless unless the IT department has structured the services in tiers, Williams said.

"Most people are human beings and will try to fix everyone's problems, with the most threatening or loudest people getting attention first," Williams said. Not all IT services are equally important, and IT organizations that attempt to support all SLAs equally will create technology resources problems and broken SLAs.

"Most companies are not tiering their service levels because they do not have a chargeback," Williams said. SLAs are easier to establish and enforce when they're based on a cost or chargeback model that clearly delineates the most strategic services from lower-priority ones, thus helping users understand the IT staff's priorities.

Tiering is a call that most enterprise IT organizations will fail to hear, Williams said. He expects that through 2015, 60% will not have established tiered SLAs, and will fail to deliver SLA goals to critical business services because they will inadvertently focus skills and resources on trying to meet SLAs that are less critical to the business.

Using performance monitoring tools? Better plan for more storage

Using performance monitoring tools results in reams of metadata, according to Todd Thomas, CIO at the Austin Radiological Association (ARA), a provider of medical imaging services to patients and physicians in central Texas. ARA has virtualized 30% of its servers, and recently chose a virtual monitoring tool to make its technology environment visible.

We were surprised by the amount of information [the monitoring system] can gather. Our initial server sizing needs to be updated because of the massive amounts of data.

Todd Thomas, CIO, Austin Radiological Association

"We were surprised by the amount of information [the monitoring system] can gather," Thomas said. "Our initial server sizing needs to be updated because of the massive amounts of data. We need to maintain an equilibrium of data, and rely on the application to manage deletions based on business rules."

Virtualization saves the data center because server resources can be utilized better, but the technology also creates new problems, said Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates LLC, a consulting firm in Needham, Mass. "Each time you create an image, it requires space for storing the image," she said. Monitoring and metadata dramatically affect the amount of storage needed, she added.

An outside-in view of performance monitoring

Make sure the software you use to monitor system performance resides on a server outside the virtual environment, said Henry Mayorga, manager of network technologies at Baron Capital Inc., a New York-based investment firm. If the monitoring [tool] affects system performance by running in the environment, the tool results don't matter, he said.

Baron Capital is 95% virtualized on servers, and has a 50-seat virtual desktop infrastructure in place. The monitoring software resides on a server dedicated to network management tools, Mayorga said. Other parts of the investment firm's infrastructure operate outside the virtual environment as well. "Although there are claims that a database server would run faster in VMware, we think they are marketing claims," he said. "In our experience, a database - core to the business itself -- deserves dedicated resources." Nonetheless, although his firm's database has its own CPU and memory, it does share storage with the VMware servers, he added.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

This was first published in November 2010

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