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Dealing with VM Sprawl? VMTurbo Is Worth Working For

Although a little cranky to get going, it packs a performance punch.

As server virtualization technology continues to mature, VM sprawl and host resource management become major issues for administrators in virtual datacenters. One possible solution to this situation is a product called VMTurbo (vmturbo.com), which is designed to assist with virtualization management.

There really isn't much of an installation process for VMTurbo. You can download it as a virtual appliance for either VMware or for Hyper-V. If you choose the VMware virtual appliance, you must have vCenter installed. For the purposes of this review I chose to use the Hyper-V version.

When I got started with VMTurbo, I couldn't find anything in the documentation describing how to import a virtual appliance. For me this wasn't a big deal because I work with Hyper-V on a daily basis, but I can see it potentially being an issue for inexperienced virtualization admins.

Notes for Hyper-V Users
There are two warnings that I would give to anyone who's planning on working with the Hyper-V version of VMTurbo. First, when you import the virtual machine (VM), the import process allocates 4GB of RAM. This shouldn't be a big deal for most people, but you do have to make sure that your Hyper-V server has adequate resources to support VMTurbo.

The other warning is that when you import the VM, it isn't connected to your virtual network by default. This is because of the way that Hyper-V is designed and has nothing to do with VMTurbo. You can link the virtual appliance to your network by right-clicking on it in the Hyper-V Manager (before the VM is started) and choosing the Settings command from the shortcut menu. Then, choose the Ethernet Port option and select the network to which the Ethernet port should be connected.

The Setup Process
Once I imported the virtual appliance, I booted it and was presented with a screen asking whether I wanted to use a static IP address or a dynamically assigned address. Because I have several different DHCP servers on my network that support multiple lab networks, I decided to use a static IP address so that I could ensure the virtual appliance was connected to the correct subnet.

Although I was able to establish a session with my VMTurbo appliance with very little effort, the login process was a bit ambiguous. The initial screen that's displayed asks for a username and password. Because the sign on the screen didn't indicate a default username or password, I decided to check the documentation. The documentation did not specifically indicate what the default credentials were. It simply said "Provide the username and password for your account. Your system administrator creates user accounts. Contact your system administrator for logon information." A screen capture within the manual showed the username as Administrator, but provided no hint as to the default password.

I wasted about an hour scouring Google for the password. One site indicated incorrectly that the password consisted of twelve asterisks. However, it was only through brute force trial and error that I discovered that both the username and the password are "administrator" (all lower case).

About an hour after I had gotten VMTurbo up and running, I noticed that I had an e-mail message from VMTurbo. As luck would have it, this message included my license for the software, instructions for importing the Hyper-V virtual appliance, and the administrative login credentials. This information was provided as a series of easy-to-follow steps. I commend VMTurbo for providing me with such an easy-to-follow e-mail, but I wish this information had been in the documentation. It would have saved me a lot of time.

Getting up and Running
Once I was finally logged into VMturbo, I was presented with the Monitor screen, which included a wizard designed to guide you through the remainder of the configuration process. The wizard's initial screen prompted me to enter the license information. I provided the software with the license that I had been given and was taken to the next step.

That next step asked me to specify the targets that I wanted to monitor. This process requires you to provide the software with the host name or IP address of the virtualization host, as well as the username and password. You also have to specify a username and password that can be used by the monitoring process.

The dialog box shown in the screen capture in the documentation is relatively simple. Hence I expected this process to be easy. In retrospect it was anything but. No matter what I tried I could not get the software to connect to my Hyper-V hosts, even though I had followed the instructions for enabling DCOM access on my Hyper-V servers.

Frustrated and up against a deadline, I contacted technical support. VMTurbo's tech support established a WebEx session with me so that they could see the problems I was having. After spending a few minutes trying different things and looking at my server logs, it seemed that tech support was stumped. The guy I had spoken to promised to get back to me in a few days with an answer. After a couple of days VMTurbo provided me with a patch that seemed to correct the problem.

After I got the software to recognize my virtualization hosts I was finally able to use it. The VMTurbo interface opens to a series of dashboards that are designed to show you the health of your virtual datacenter.

The dashboards are designed to provide you with an aggregate view of your datacenter. I'll be the first to admit that the way the information is presented took a bit of getting used to. I'm monitoring three virtualization hosts, but you would never know it by glancing at the Summary screen. However, the Inventory portion of the screen allows you to look at individual physical hosts, individual VMs and at your datacenter as a whole.

One thing I really liked about the Summary screen is that there's a big Recommended Actions section in the middle of the lower section. This section tells you exactly what's going on with your servers and what you need to do about it. You can also get a quick status report by clicking the Status link just above the top row of dashboards. When you do, you can see a severity report and problem log for your hosts, VMs and storage. Of course you can drill down to examine individual hosts and VMs.

In my opinion, the best features of VMTurbo are Planning and Optimization. If you click on the Plan tab, you can see the current workload distribution and some future workload projections. You can use this information to gauge the impact of actions such as adding a new host.

The Optimize tab works similar to the Plan tab, except that the software shows you how your resources are currently being utilized and makes recommendations about what you could do to optimize host usage.

Pricing
There are three different versions of VMTurbo; pricing is based on which version you need. VMTurbo Community Edition covers the basics and provides infrastructure and performance monitoring, capacity reporting, problem detection, and alerting for performance and capacity issues. The Community Edition is freely available for download from vmturbo.com/compare-vmturbo-editions.

The second edition is Enterprise Operations Manager. It has all of the same capabilities as the Community Edition, but also offers additional features such as capacity planning, dynamic resource allocation and dynamic workload allocation. Enterprise Operations Manager sells for $399 per socket or $25 per socket per month.

VMTurbo also offers a Cloud Operations Manager Edition, which is designed primarily for multi-tenant environments. This edition offers heterogeneous hypervisor support and supports multiple virtual centers. The Cloud Operations Manager sells for $799 per socket or $49 per socket per month.

Bottom Line
In spite of the fact that I had such a tough time getting the VMTurbo software to work correctly and that the documentation was lacking, I really liked the software. The interface isn't totally intuitive, but once you get past the relatively short learning curve this software begins to show its true power. Of course my favorite thing about this software is that you can get basic monitoring capabilities for free!

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site at.

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