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Interview with CloudTech - Why virtualisation isn't enough in cloud computing

I was recently interviewed for an article with CloudTech again around the topic of whether virtualisation in itself was enough for a successful cloud computing deployment. Below is an excerpt of the article. For the full article which also includes viewpoints from other analysts please follow the link:
While it is generally recognised that virtualisation is an important step in the move to cloud computing, as it enables efficient use of the underlying hardware and allows for true scalability,  for virtualisation in order to be truly valuable it really needs to understand the workloads that run on it and offer clear visibility of both the virtual and physical worlds.

On its own, virtualisation does not lend itself to creating sufficient visibility about the multiple applications and services running at any one time. For this reason a primitive automation system could cause a number of errors to occur, such as the spinning up of another virtual machine to offset the load on enterprise applications that are presumed to be overloaded.
Well that’s the argument that was presented by Karthikeyan Subramaniam in his Infoworld article last year, and his viewpoint is supported by experts at converged cloud vendor VCE.
“I agree absolutely because server virtualisation has created an unprecedented shift and transformation in the way datacentres are provisioned and managed”, affirms Archie Hendryx – VCE’s Principal vArchitect. He adds that, "server virtualisation has brought with it a new layer of abstraction and consequently a new challenge to monitor and optimise applications."
Hendryx has also experienced first hand how customers address this challenge "as a converged architecture enables customers to quickly embark on a virtualisation journey that mitigates risks and ensures that they increase their P to V ratio compared to standard deployments.”
In his view there's a need to develop new ways of monitoring provides end users more visibility concerning the complexities of their applications, their interdependencies and how they correlate with the virtualised infrastructure. “Our customers are now looking at how they can bring an end-to-end monitoring solution to their virtualised infrastructure and applications to their environments”, he says. In his experience this is because customers want their applications to have the same benefits of orchestration, automation, resource distribution and reclamation that they obtained with their hypervisor.
Virtual and physical correlations
Hendryx adds: “By having a hypervisor you would have several operating system (OS) instances and applications. So for visibility you would need to correlate what is occurring on the virtual machine and the underlying physical server, with what is happening with the numerous applications.” He therefore believes that the challenge is to try to understand the behaviour of an underlying hypervisor that has several applications running simultaneously on it. For example, if a memory issue were to arise relating to an operating system of a virtual machine, it would be possible to find that the application either has no memory left, or it might be constrained, yet the hypervisor might still present metrics that there is sufficient memory available.
Hendryx says these situations are quite common: “This is because the memory metrics – from a hypervisor perspective – are not reflective of the application as the hypervisor has no visibility into how its virtual machines are using their allocated memory.” The problem being that the hypervisor has no knowledge of whether the memory it allocated to a virtual machine is, for cache, paging or pooled memory. What it understands in actuality is that it has made provision for memory and this is why errors can often occur.
Complexities
This lack of inherent visibility and correlation between the hypervisor, the operating system and the applications that run them could cause another virtual machine to spin up. “This disparity occurs because setting up a complex group of applications is far more complicated than setting up a virtual machine”, says Hendryx. There is no point in cloning a virtual machine with an encapsulated virtual machine either; this approach just won’t work, and that’s because it will fail to address what he describes as “the complexity of multi-tiered applications and their dynamically changing workloads.”
It’s therefore a must to have some application monitoring in place that correlates with the metrics that are being constantly monitored by the hypervisor and the application interdependencies.
“The other error that commonly occurs is caused when the process associated with provisioning is flawed and not addressed”, he comments. When this occurs the automation of that process will remain unsound to the extent that further issues may arise. He adds that automation from a virtual machine level will fail to allocate its resources adequately to the key applications and this will have a negative impact on response times and throughput – leading to poor performance.
Possible solutions
According to Hendryx, VCE has ensured customers have visibility within a virtualised and converged cloud environment by deploying VMWare’s vCenter Operations Manager to monitor the Vblock’s resource utilisation. He adds that “VMware’s Hyperic and Infrastructure Navigator has provided them with the visibility of virtual machine to application mapping as well as application performance monitoring, to give them the necessary correlation between applications, operating system, virtual machine and server…” It also offers them the visibility that has been so lacking.
Archie Hendryx then concluded with best practices for virtualisation within a converged infrastructure:
1. If it’s successful and repeatable, then it’s worth standardising and automating because automation will enable you to make successful processes repeatable.
2.  Orchestrate it because even when a converged infrastructure is deployed there will still need to be changes that require rolling out; such as operating system updates, capacity changes, security events, load-balancing or application completions. These will all need to be placed in a certain order and you can automate the orchestration process.
3.  Simplify the front end by recognising that virtualisation has transformed your environment into a resource pool that end users should be able to request and provision for themselves and be consequently charged for. This may involve eliminating manual processes in favour of automated workflows, and simplification will enable a business to recognise the benefits of virtualisation.
4.  Manage and monitor: You can’t manage and monitor what you can’t see. For this reason VCE customers have an API that provides visibility and context to all of the individual components within a Vblock. They benefit from integration with VMware’s vCenter and vCenter Operations Manager and VCE’s API called Vision IOS. From these VCE’s customers gain visibility and the ability to immediately discover, identify and validate all of the components and firmware levels within the converged infrastructure as well as monitor its end-to-end health. This helps to eliminate any bottlenecks that might otherwise occur by allowing overly provisioned resources to be reclaimed.

Read the original blog entry...

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SAN, NAS, Back Up / Recovery & Virtualisation Specialist.

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