The top five free tools for managing VMware vSphere

When it comes to monitoring your VMs, a few free tools can help keep tabs on your vSphere environment.

It's not always true that you get what you pay for, especially when you're considering tools for managing VMware

vSphere. There are some really great, free vSphere tools available for admins in the virtualization space. Here are five free tools I use on a regular basis when doing my consulting work and are worthwhile to anyone doing VMware-related work.

CloudPhysics

CloudPhysics is my favorite in the free vSphere tools list. I like to think of CloudPhysics as big data for VMware with some science, because who doesn't dig science these days? CloudPhysics is a software as a service offering that offers more advanced features for a monthly subscription, but the free offering still gives you a ton of great features.

The product started off as a great reporting tool. It's built on the idea of Cards, in which each Card is a report. The Cards are organized into a Deck for each customer and provide easy access to reports. Along with the Cards in each Deck, there is a Card store that offers additional Cards outside of the default ones. Other users, vendors and CloudPhysics can publish Cards to the store, allowing others to add them to their Deck and benefit from the shared work.

Everyone with an account has access to the Card Builder, which is my favorite feature. Card Builder allows you to build custom Cards that report on the data you are seeking. For example, you could build a Card that would give you an inventory list of VMs or hosts. Another idea would be a report of which VMs have hot-add memory enabled on them.

Earlier this year, CloudPhysics added performance counters to the already huge list of stats it collects. This allows users to build Cards to report on performance data and help track down performance issues in their environment, such as CPU or data store performance.

RVTools

RVTools has been on my list of favorite free VMware tools for a long time, so much so that I'd be willing to purchase it for a nominal amount if they started charging for it. RVTools provides a very easy way to dump the inventory of a vCenter server. It exports the inventory in an Excel-like spreadsheet view with tabs for 15-plus major sections.

In RVTools, there are views for VMs, hosts, clusters, vSwitches, port groups and many other items. Each line in these views contains a bevy of details that can help you in documenting or troubleshooting issues. If you export your inventory to Excel, you can sort the views and create reports.

I often use RVTools to document customer environments. It lets me grab a ton of details in a few short minutes. I can then take the details away and consume them over time and refer back to them when needed. RVTools also has a vHealth tab that warns you of possible issues with VMware tools, snapshots and zombie files.

VMware Flings

A few years ago, the VMware Labs team brought the idea of pet projects by VMware engineers, called Flings, to the community. Flings are usually small apps created to add features to existing applications, but they can also be a testing and troubleshooting utility that solves issues users have.

These Flings are free applications that are offered by VMware without any support. A number of very good ones have been created already, and they could someday be included with shipping products if VMware decides that the feature is beneficial to the greater user base.

Here is a short list of a few of my favorite VMware Flings:

Esxtop

This favorite free vSphere tool is included with VMware vSphere out of the box. It's a little gem that is ignored by many, but its popularity is increasing as admins begin to understand its benefits. If you come from a Linux background, you will remember how you used the top command in the past; think of esxtop as the VMware version, except with all sorts of virtualization goodness added to the tool.

Esxtop is a command-line tool that can be run from the host's console or via Secure Socket Shell  connection. The tool runs in real time, showing you data based on different views of the host and guest that are running on it. Esxtop is used to gain insight into the performance of a host or VMs on a host-by-host basis.

Once running esxtop, you can choose among views for CPU, memory, network, data stores and storage paths. Each view can provide valuable data for finding the cause of the issue you are troubleshooting.

Veeam One Free Edition

My final choice for this list is the free edition of Veeam One. Veeam One is a monitoring and reporting application; I think everyone needs more reporting and monitoring for their VMware environments because many customers do not use anything outside of vCenter Server. The team at Veeam makes some very good applications. They also offer fewer-featured versions of some of them as free community versions.

As mentioned, the free version of Veeam One does not contain all the features of the paid product, with some functions reduced and others disabled. For example, the reporting features in the free version typically keep only 24 hours of data. This limits the window that you can report on, but it's much better than no reporting.

There are many other great tools available for free to VMware users. I encourage you to test out the ones covered in this article and look for others that might fill your needs.

This was first published in June 2014

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