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VirtualCenter 2.5's Guided Consolidation feature: A walk-through

Finding, analyzing and consolidating servers is now easier with VirtualCenter 2.5's new Guided Consolidation feature, a "lite" version of VMware Capacity Planner.

The release of VirtualCenter 2.5 included a new feature called Guided Consolidation (also known as Capacity Planner) which uses a built-in wizard to discover physical systems and analyze them for preparation to be converted into virtual machines (VMs). This feature is a "lite" version of the full Capacity Planner application that is available to VMware business partners to help analyze customer environments.

Once these systems have been analyzed they can be converted into virtual machines by the built-in VMware Converter feature of VirtualCenter 2.5. The entire process consists of the following steps:

  • Finding servers - First search for, and select, the physical systems in your data center that you want analyzed.
  • Analyzing servers - Selected physical systems are analyzed and performance data on each selected system is collected. Generally, the longer the duration of the analysis phase the higher the confidence in VirtualCenter's recommendations.
  • Consolidating servers - Performance data is compared to the resources available on the virtual machine host systems. The selected physical systems are converted to virtual machines and imported into VirtualCenter on the recommended hosts where they are managed along with other components of your virtual environment.

Additionally, the following prerequisites must be met for this feature to work:

  • At least one data center inventory object exists in VirtualCenter.
  • At least one ESX host is registered with VirtualCenter.
  • Consolidation services require local administrator privileges on the VirtualCenter server. Specifically, the collector service must be run with local administrator privileges. Additionally, the account used must also be granted the Log-on as service privilege. If Active Directory is deployed on your network, the credentials used to run consolidation services must also have sufficient privileges to query the Active Directory database.
  • Consolidation services also require administrator access to the systems selected for analysis. Specifically, the collector service uses these credentials to connect to and retrieve configuration and performance data from the physical systems under analysis.

Installing VMware Capacity Planner Service
When you install VirtualCenter 2.5 it also installs a new service called VMware Capacity Planner Service on the VirtualCenter server.

If you do not have this service installed on your VirtualCenter server you can manually install it by going to the extracted installation zip file for VirtualCenter and in the \vpx directory is the CapacityPlanner.exe file which you can run to install it. Once it is installed and running, you can access the feature by clicking the Consolidation button in VirtualCenter.

Before we begin please note that VirtualCenter 2.5 Upgrade 2 added a few user interface changes to make it easier to search and analyze servers. If you are running a previous version you may not see some of the options that are shown here until you upgrade. You should also ensure that the Remote Registry service is running on the hosts that you want to analyze as this is required for the VirtualCenter server to collect data on the target servers.

Using VMware Guided Consolidation
Once you click the Consolidation button, it will bring up a welcome screen with a button to start analysis. Once you click the Start Analysis button for the first time a window will appear asking for credentials that will be used by the Consolidation service to discover systems on your network.

This is the user account that the VMware Capacity Planner service will run as, once you enter the credentials it will automatically update the service so it starts as the user account that you specify rather then Local System. The user that you specify must be a member of the local administrators group on the VirtualCenter server, be granted the "Log on as a service" user right in the local security policy and must be a domain account so it can read information from Active Directory (it does not need to be a domain administrator).

Next, you'll be prompted for default credentials to be used when connecting to systems that you want to analyze. This account must have administrator access to the systems that will be analyzed. It's easiest to use a domain administrator account for the default credentials, but you can override the default credentials when analyzing a system by clicking the Set Authentication button when selecting it.

Once you enter your credentials you will see a screen that lets you select which computers you want to analyze. As noted earlier, this screen is different with VC 2.5 Update 2. Prior versions did not have the upper section that lets you manually specify a computer(s) to analyze and only let you select computers from a domain that was visible from the VirtualCenter host.

Once you select the computer(s) that you wish to analyze you will be prompted to either use the default credentials that were supplied earlier, or use alternative credentials. Once you add a computer(s) to be analyzed it will begin the analysis and continue it until it is removed from the Analysis page.

The data gathered from the computer(s) is very basic and does not use some of the more advanced metrics that the full version of Capacity Planner uses. Up to 100 systems can be analyzed simultaneously. The Analysis page displays CPU and Memory info on the computer(s) along with a status, confidence and average CPU/Memory usage over time. Confidence is the degree to which VirtualCenter can gather performance data about the system and how good a candidate the system is based on the available data.

Once you decide to consolidate a physical server into a virtual machine you can click the Plan Consolidation button (or right-click on the server and selecting the Convert to Virtual Machine With Recommendations option) which displays a window with the select computers, a ESX host destination (which you can change) and a destination rating which indicates the degree to which the ESX host can comfortably accommodate the estimated resource needs of the resultant virtual machine. VMware recommends that you only consolidate a single computer at a time.

Once you click the Consolidate button it automatically begins the process of converting the physical system into a virtual machine by hot-cloning the system while it is running. It first creates a new VM on the selected ESX host with the same number of CPUs and memory of the physical system and then imports the data using the embedded VMware Converter plug-in.

Manual configuration
This process has no options for customizing the destination VM (i.e. number of vCPUs, selecting drives, changing hard drive sizes) like you would normally have when running Converter. If you want more control over the process you can manually convert the system by not using the Plan Consolidation button, and instead right-click on the system in the Analysis window and select the "Convert to Virtual Machine Manually" option (the menu option is available only if the VMware Converter Enterprise Client is installed and enabled on your VI Client). This option launches the Import wizard where you can manually complete the conversion process. Once the process is completed you can shutdown the physical system and startup the new VM and you are ready to go.

It's nice to see VMware continually merge some of the previously standalone products (Converter, Capacity Planner) into VirtualCenter for better integration and ease of use. It would be nice to see more detailed analysis on the servers that are being analyzed; CPU and memory usage are very basic indicators of a system's performance and do not address disk or network utilization along with the more detailed CPU and memory statistics such as processor queue length, percent processor time or memory pages per second. Hopefully VMware will continue to improve upon this feature in later releases, but for now Guided Consolidation is a step in the right direction and a good way to do some basic analysis on your physical systems and get them virtualized.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forum and maintains VMware-land.com, a VI3 information site.

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