Tip

Free management tools for VMware SMB environments

Gabrie van Zanten, Contributor

Once you consider buying VMware management tools for a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) VMware environment, it can get expensive quickly -- often too costly for a limited budget.

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But given the many free tools available to manage an SMB environment, there's no need to drop big bucks on expensive monitoring, reporting and automation software. Free tools can probably handle many critical VMware management tasks.

Scripted installations 

Host servers with matching configurations are key to successful virtualization environment management. Automated installation is the easiest way to create matching server configurations . You can buy the VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus edition at $3,495 per CPU and use the VMware host profile feature, but Herco van Burgh's free ESX Deployment Appliance (EDA) gets the job done -- and it's free.

These tools have different capabilities, of course. You can use VMware host profiles, for example, only if you have a previously installed host of which to create a copy and, prior to making a copy, you have to perform a manual basic installation. EDA, however, allows you to boot an "empty" host using a Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) and install your host OS, including all the required settings for your environment. Voilà: no manual installations!

VMware host profiles also makes it easy to perform post-installation configuration changes. It can also check hosts intermittently to see whether they match your initially desired configuration. This is something EDA can't do; but some PowerShell scripts can do the same thing.

Log file monitoring

Monitoring the overall infrastructure is central to managing a VMware environment. Could certain misconfigurations prevent a successful live migration? Can you tweak configurations to proactively prevent disruptive incidents? Monitoring log files can clue you into both answers.

In a VMware environment, VMkernel logs are critical (/var/log/vmkernel and /var/log/vmkwarning on ESX systems, or /var/log/messages on ESXi). The console makes these logs accessible but does not provide a consolidated view.

Several "syslogging" applications can help with this organizational issue. SysLogAppliance is free for noncommercial use (home users, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions) or the free Kiwi Syslog server, which runs on Windows. Both offerings come in paid editions with additional features, but the free version provides a quick overview of an environment at the host level.

Real-time health monitoring 

When it comes to real-time health monitoring, the best free tools are stripped-down versions of related paid offerings or are "stepping stone" tools that a vendor hopes will entice users to buy the full-featured product. This approach isn't necessarily a bad thing, since many stripped-down versions are still valuable monitoring tools for smaller environments. Veeam Monitor 4.5 Free edition, for example, offers a real-time view of the performance metrics of your virtual infrastructure. You can see the overall CPU performance per host or virtual machine (VM). Check the amount of RAM assigned at cluster level and more. The drawback is that you can only view 24 hours of history. If and when you upgrade to the full edition, however, your entire history is available.

Health reporting

If your environment needs weekly or monthly health checks, you'll likely want information on aspects other than performance. This is where Alan Renouf's VMware Community PowerPack comes in. While Renouf maintains the PowerPack, it also contains various scripts from other PowerShell scripters. The VMware Community PowerPack contains several scripts that run easily in a VMware infrastructure.

To use the PowerPack, you will need:

I find the following scripts most useful:

 

  • Reservations / Shares / Limits. This script indicates whether limits set on a virtual machine can undermine performance.
  • Virtual machines with active memory ballooning. This script indicates whether a host has a memory shortage or will soon confront one.
  • Datastore info. This script tells me how much space I have left on my datastores.
  • Active snapshots. Nothing gets you into more trouble than a forgotten snapshot that suddenly eats up all your free datastore space and brings a VM to a halt. This script indicates where active snapshots reside and how old they are.
  • Host overcommit. Your boss will love you for this script. It shows how much memory he didn't have to buy because of the memory-saving technique known as transparent page sharing that VMware vSphere offers.
  • Orphaned VMDK files.It's possible to misplace Virtual Machine Disk Format VMDK files while copying and cloning VMs, messing around with templates and editing VMX files (the primary configuration file for a VM) by hand. This script queries and rediscovers lost VMDKs, which can save gigabytes of wasted storage space.

PowerPack includes several other time-saving features; I suggest that you try it out to see the benefits in action.

Tools for daily administration jobs

In addition to monitoring an environment, a virtualization administrator is saddled with many other daily tasks. Here are some free tools that can ease the burden and time sink.

 

  • Veeam FastSCP. This program helps upload and download files to ESX hosts. Veeam FastSCP is now called Veeam Backup Free Edition.
  • RVTools 2.9. Written by Rob de Veij, this software displays information about virtual machines and ESX hosts, but not from a performance view. It indicates which host CPUs have Enhanced VMotion Compatibility with one another, shows you available CD and floppy disk drives, and so on.
  • Eric Sloof's Vmclient. This tool is a lightweight version of the VMware Infrastructure client. The vmClient starts quickly and enables you to connect to a single VM.
  • vAlarm. This desktop software is a free tool that monitors vCenter alarms
  • Vlogview. This tool manages ESX server logs.

Educational VMware-related blogs

VMware-related blogs are an often-overlooked educational tool. Without substantial administrative know-how, you can't make sense of the data provided by the scripts and tools mentioned above. The blogs can help. I recommend picking a good RSS reader and subscribing to some VMware-related blogs. A good place to start is thevpad.com, which lists the top VMware blogs as voted by readers.

 

Gabrie van Zanten (VCP) has been in the IT industry for 12 years. Currently he is a virtualization architect for a worldwide consultancy company and has designed and maintained virtual infrastructures for a number of customers. He has written articles for magazines and frequently publishes in-depth articles at his blog, GabesVirtualWorld.


 

This was first published in July 2010

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