Filling VMware vCenter Server management vOids

I love VMware vCenter and use it every day. But it isn't perfect.

VMware vCenter Server provides a centralized management console for vSphere hosts and virtual machines (VMs). Most of vSphere's advanced features, such as vMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler and Fault Tolerance, require vCenter Server.

But some vCenter Server management features need improvement. And some vCenter Server management gaps are larger than others. So what should a VMware administrator do? How do you patch these virtual infrastructure cracks?

Every organization is different, as is every virtual infrastructure, so you may see different holes in vCenter than I do in mine. That said, here is my list of vCenter Server management vOids (get it?) and how to fill them:

vCenter Server management hole No. 1: Backup and recovery
You need a backup application that recognizes the virtual infrastructure and can interact with vCenter to determine the locations of VMs. Every edition of vSphere, starting with Essentials Plus, includes VMware Data Recovery (VDR), which is a good backup tool for virtual infrastructures with up to 100 VMs. (You can overcome this limitation with multiple VDR appliances.)

But VMware just doesn't promote VDR, nor does the company offer many new VDR revisions or features. And most use third-party virtualization backup tools, regardless of how many VMs an organization has. These tools scale to thousands of VMs, and you'll never have to replace your VM backup tool because it ran out of gas at 100 VMs. Plus, these tools may offer additional features, such data replication between data centers, instant restore and advanced verification. Two such virtualization backup tools are Veeam Backup and Replication 5 and Quest vRanger.

vCenter Server management hole No. 2: Mass changes
If you have only a handful of VMs, for example, making a modification to the VM properties isn't too difficult. But what if you want to disconnect the CD drive on 500 VMs? That's a problem. VCenter doesn't offer a way to automate this process.

Instead of performing mass changes in the vSphere Client or vCenter, VMware recommends PowerCLI, which is PowerShell interface with vSphere-specific additions. On its own, PowerCLI alone isn't terribly enjoyable to use. But it can be enhanced with a nice toolset and a library of preconfigured scripts to jump-start your mass changes, which is possible with PowerGUI and the VMware Community PowerPack.

vCenter Server management hole No. 3: Alarm alerting
vCenter offers 42 default alarms. But if you aren't in the vSphere Client when an alarm goes off, it's likely that you won't find out about it until much later -- or when the CIO chews you out. And manually configuring an action to send an email on all 42 alarms is a pain.

Instead of configuring actions on the default alarms, you can exploit two quick, easy and free alarm tools that can send customizable alerts, whether or not the vSphere Client is running. XtraVirt's vAlarm and Nick Weaver's vSphere Mini Monitor solve this vCenter Server management issue.

vCenter Server management hole No. 4: Capacity planning
vCenter does a decent job with performance charts and tracking history, such as logs, events and metrics. But performance monitoring could be easier. Plus, it has no built-in method for capacity planning or for easily identifying capacity bottlenecks.

VMware's vCenter Capacity and third party tools, such as vKernel's vOperations Suite, simplify capacity planning and answer the following capacity questions: How much excess VM capacity do you have? Where are the bottlenecks in the infrastructure? At the current growth rate, how long before you'll need to upgrade a server's RAM?

vCenter Server management hole No. 5: VM guest processes and files
vCenter does well in managing hosts and VMs, but it doesn't go into the guest operating system. In the vSphere Client, you can view all the running processes inside every VM, edit a VM guest OS file or run a script across all VMs.

The free VMware Guest Console, an experimental application created by VMware Labs, is a great tool for managing vSphere VM processes and files. You can view, sort and kill processes across all VMs, and you can also run a script on all Windows or Linux VMs. I hope VMware includes these experimental features in the vSphere Client soon!

vCenter Server management hole No. 6: Virtual network insight
The vSphere Client can indicate that VM network traffic is causing a 1 GB Ethernet adapter to have a 99% utilization rate. But strangely, it doesn't display which kind of traffic is going across the virtual networks, where it came from or where it's going.

To learn which traffic is going across a virtual network, there's another free tool for vSphere: Xangati for ESX, a virtual appliance that tracks conversations on the virtual network. It's great for troubleshooting any virtual network issue, analyzing virtual desktop infrastructure and correlating vCenter performance stats with virtual network stats.


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