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Solving the Virtualized Infrastructure Monitoring and Documenting Dilemma

Server virtualization is easy these days. What's really hard is documenting and monitoring your virtualized infrastructure, and producing baseline security and health reports. That's because managing any environment is challenging enough, but managing one you can't see and touch is only really possible if you have the right tools.

Ironically, it's probably harder to report on a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) virtualized setup than on a bigger one. Virtually Speaking That's because there are plenty of operational reporting tools out there, but many of them are aimed at the higher end of the market.

"Larger companies [utilizing VMware server virtualization] can use enterprise tools like VRealize Operations Manager, but it requires a lot of education to get it up and running," says Gavin Jollife.

Jollife is CEO of Xtravirt, a large European server virtualization consulting company that's aiming to make it easy for smaller companies (those with less than 5000 staff) to get baseline reports on their VMware infrastructure — other hypervisors may be added in the future — by offering reporting-as-a-service (RaaS) from the public cloud.

SONAR Service to the Reporting Rescue for SMEs

Xtravirt's SONAR service provides baseline assessments and reports for companies that lack the capacity, skills or expertise to make carrying them out themselves practical. Configuration reporting is important for security and compliance purposes as well as to ensure day-to-day operation remains reliable.

And documenting architecture — which can change very quickly in a virtualized environment — is vital for purposes such as disaster recovery, where every architecture change may have an impact on the viability of disaster recovery plans.

So what exactly does SONAR do? A 50Mb agentless client runs on a local machine (it could be an administrator's laptop or even a virtual machine) and from there it interrogates the rest of the VMware infrastructure. It then sends the data it collects off to Xtravirt's SONAR service in the public cloud — an Azure public cloud rather than a VMware one, amusingly — using SSL.

Here the data is processed, and once that's complete a full report is sent back to the administrator (and the original data deleted). This includes a 42-point assessment of the infrastructure, comparing these points against best practices, highlighting any deviations or other issues such as inconsistencies in software versions or security (and other) configurations. SONAR also offers recommendations for enhancements.

"If you are in a growing environment and you snap on another host and then another host, this is not always done consistently," Joliffe warns.

Jollife says the reports SONAR generates are intended to provide a quick "view of the world" with enough information to help focus on reducing risk, improving uptime or similar operational objectives. "We also provide guidance notes with the reports, so we are trying to be educational too," he adds.

Doing this type of reporting manually would be an administrative nightmare, and would likely take weeks. An automated tool like SONAR can do the same things, without the potential for human error, in fifteen minutes or so.

That's convenient, but it can also be vital — as in the case of one customer that found itself in a difficult situation when the only member of staff who understood the company's virtualized infrastructure left the organization. Thanks to SONAR, a view of the existing architecture could be built up and presented as a report in minutes.

Where things gets quite interesting is in the way Xtravirt prices its reporting service. Joliffe reckons that VMware or even his own company would charge about $8000 to carry out a similar report, so four reports a year would cost over $30,000. But Xtravirt charges a little under $8000 for an annual subscription to SONAR for one vSphere license, and with that subscription customers can carry out reports as often as they like — perhaps whenever new infrastructure is added, or simply on a quarterly basis.

Reporting tools that can carry out remediation automatically at the touch of a button are the ideal solution for small organizations, but a relatively low-cost standalone reporting as a service offering also has its attractions. It will certainly be interesting watching how popular SONAR proves to be with budget-conscious highly virtualized SMEs as a low-cost reporting solution.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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This article was originally published on March 23, 2015
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