Get Ready For The Next Virtualization Headache: Application Performance - InformationWeek

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Get Ready For The Next Virtualization Headache: Application Performance

With so many servers virtualized, companies are searching for the best way to make sure applications meet expectations.

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Illustration by Getty Images With the rush to virtualization, a new problem is appearing in the data center that can only become more acute as servers become more virtualized--guaranteeing the performance of running applications.

Applications used to be practically a physical entity, running on standalone, dedicated hardware with lots of spare capacity. Now virtualized applications are stacked four to 10 thick per server in the name of energy conservation and system consolidation.

While this approach saves energy, floor space, and, we hope, employee time, each application is in a less predictable operating environment. Each probably has a variable workload, and no application is aware of the others. As workloads escalate and mount joint demands on the CPU and other resources, how do you guarantee application performance?

"With a 1-to-1 relationship in a physical environment, you knew exactly what headroom you had to accommodate peak loads," says Andi Mann, a virtualization analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. Multiple applications on a single server make it hard to ensure that same level of performance.

To those celebrating the savings that virtualization yields, application performance is tomorrow's problem. Many companies manage to stay on top of it by using a mix of existing monitoring tools and considerable good judgment and experience.

"We don't have any tools specifically to monitor performance, but we can usually correlate application issues to problems with server components," says Brian Cox, director of IT customer service at Norton Healthcare, the largest healthcare provider in Louisville, Ky. Cox has delivered the hospital chain's patient care system via 1,000 virtual desktops, and he tracks performance by monitoring CPU utilization or disk utilization, not the application itself.

That approach has been good enough in the first phase of virtualization, but it's going to get tougher. In some cases, a user may click on an application being monitored, and in a blink of the eye, VMware's VMotion has moved the application from one physical server to another. Not only do the workload levels change, but the underlying infrastructure shifts as well. Is the application performance monitor going to keep up?

To cope with such shifting patterns, the application performance manager must be tied to an infrastructure discovery and mapping tool, which can detect a virtual machine's shift from one server to another and point the performance management software in the right direction again. The big four systems management vendors--CA, BMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM--are trying to bring a traditional strength to virtual application management by discovering, mapping, and connecting to the enterprise software infrastructure. CA, for instance, applies a mix of its Spectrum Automation Manager with its Wily Application Performance Manager.

Chart: How Much Does Your Organization Use Data Center Automation Tools?

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