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Using vCenter Infrastructure Navigator to map application dependencies

VMware’s Infrastructure Navigator is a key addition to the vCenter Operations suite that can help you better understand application dependencies and improve disaster recovery.

Understanding communication and dependencies between servers and applications is extremely useful when troubleshooting and or doing disaster recovery planning for multi-tiered client-server applications. Called application dependency mapping, VMware now offers this capability for virtual environments with vCenter Infrastructure Navigator.

VMware has been pushing to add enterprise performance, capacity and application management to its product lineup. To do this, the company added the VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite, and includes vCenter Infrastructure Navigator (VIN) as part of the Enterprise and Enterprise Plus distributions. The product hails from a company called nLayers that EMC acquired in 2006 and then incorporated into its Smarts product line. VMware in turn acquired it as part of the February 2010 purchase of EMC’s Ionix portfolio. VIN 1.0 was released in January 2012, and version 1.1 was introduced in April 2012 alongside vCenter Operations Management 5.0.1.

How does vCenter Infrastructure Navigator help you?
How does vCenter Infrastructure Navigator fit in with the rest of the vCenter Operations Management suite? As an application dependency mapping tool, VIN maps how applications in your vSphere infrastructure work together. While it doesn’t recognize every application in your infrastructure, it provides a short list of what VMware believes are the most critical applications, for example, a Web server talking to a database server that communicates with a mail server. The ability to see your critical application dependencies in a visual diagram is invaluable, especially in large infrastructures with numerous tiered applications.

In addition, VIN works with VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) to protect these multi-tiered applications. VIN understands SRM protection groups, allowing you to see potential problems with a recovery plan if, for example, a Web server is protected but its database server is not. Besides understanding disaster recovery, VIN is also very useful for troubleshooting tier-one applications.

Downloading and installing Infrastructure Navigator
VIN is purchased as part of vCenter Ops, but it is deployed separately as a standalone virtual appliance. Just as vCenter Operations has a generous 60-day evaluation, VIN can be downloaded and deployed through the same website in the same evaluation process.

Figure 1

Once the 600 MB .OVA file is downloaded, go to your vSphere client and, under File, select Deploy OVF. Note that you’ll want to also deploy vCenter Operations Manager (which deploys as a two virtual-machine vApp in the latest version) at the same time.

Figure 2

If you are deploying vCOps and VIN in a test or lab environment then you can simply accept all the defaults (using DHCP for networking). However, if you are deploying vCOps/VIN in a production environment then there is more to consider and I recommend perusing the following resources:

You can view the IP address of VIN on the VM’s summary page in the vSphere Client. From there, you can access the virtual appliance configuration by going to (assuming that the IP was The default login is admin and the password was set during the deployment of the VIN virtual appliance. Here’s what it looks like once logged in:

Figure 3

However, just like a number of other VMware virtual appliances, accessing the Web console for the virtual appliance only allows you to change the timezone, network configuration, or perform an update.

Using vCenter Infrastructure Navigator
To actually use VIN, you’ll have to do a couple of things.

  • Enter your VIN license key in vCenter (you can use your evaluation key)
  • Load the vSphere Web Client. Note that you can’t use the traditional Windows vSphere Client to use VIN. To enable the Web client you will have to either be using the vCenter Server Appliance (not the Windows version) which enables the Web client by default or load the vSphere Web Client (Server) on your Windows vCenter server

Open your vSphere Web client and you’ll notice a new tab labeled Navigate – this is vCenter Infrastructure Navigator. Click on Turn on Discovery and provide your vCenter server administrative username and password to get the process going.

Figure 4

Infrastructure Navigator will then discover how your VMs are communicating with each other. You’ll get an overview like this one:

Figure 5

And, if you click on an individual VM, you’ll get detail on every network port over which that VM is communicating.

This type of information is extremely useful for disaster recovery planning and troubleshooting your virtual infrastructure.

Infrastructure Navigator wish list
As it stands, Infrastructure Navigator advances troubleshooting and operational management of virtual environments. However, I hope that  VMware will continue to enhance its capabilities.

For example, increasing the types of applications that VIN can recognize -- as well as the source and destination of that traffic -- would make it more powerful. Today, VIN only recognizes the core Microsoft enterprise servers (Web, Exchange, SQL) and the core VMware servers (vCenter, View, RabbitMQ). In the future, I'd like to see it recognize a longer list of applications.

Better yet, it could expanded to recognize network-based end-user applications like you might find in a VMware View virtual desktop infrastructure, for example, video conferencing, social media, and other third-party applications. If Infrastructure Navigator could recognize custom in-house or video conferencing applications, it’d be much easier to troubleshoot and protect them.

Overall, VIN is a unique product that I can see being a “must-have” in any large environment –especially when SRM is in use.

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