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In the Trenches: Overcoming Key Virtualization Pain Points

August 1, 2011

Summary

As companies invest in virtualization technology, they’re coming face to face with some unique challenges. This Tech Brief summarizes the top technical issues associated with implementing business-critical applications into the VMware ecosystem.
As this recent article made clear, virtualization continues to gain momentum in the enterprise, even in today’s uncertain economic climate. But as companies invest in virtualization technology, they’re coming face to face with some unique challenges.
One of the thorniest of these challenges has to do with virtualizing business-critical applications given current tools and processes. So far, many companies have refrained from moving their business-critical applications into VMware virtual machines because of the high availability requirements of these applications. Primarily this has been due to the lack of a high availability solution that could provide application awareness and subsequently protect the application inside the VMware virtual machine.
Recently, Symantec introduced ApplicationHA, an application-aware high availability solution that largely automates the process of detecting and recovering from application failures inside a virtual machine. ApplicationHA is the result of close collaboration between Symantec and VMware, whose customers were struggling to bring the benefits of virtualization to their business-critical applications such as Exchange, IIS, SAP, and Oracle.
This TechBrief summarizes the top technical issues that surfaced when the two companies sat down with customers to learn about implementing application high availability needs in the VMware ecosystem.

Keep it simple

One of the first issues to surface concerned ease of use. As the Symantec 2010 State of the Data Center Survey demonstrated earlier this year, today’s data centers continue to become more complex and harder to manage. At the same time, staffing remains tight. At a time when the data center is harder than ever to manage, enterprises are finding it extremely difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff.
They’re all issues that resonated with these Symantec and VMware customers. Small wonder, then, that they insisted any proposed application high availability solution would have to be simple to install, configure, and deploy.
“Today’s IT teams are stressed, and there’s no extra bandwidth whatsoever,” says Saveen Pakala, Group Product Manager at Symantec. “So it was important to spend a lot of time to make this solution simple. Administrators can install, configure, and administer ApplicationHA with just a few clicks. Plus, ApplicationHA’s integration with VMware vCenter means you’re not looking at one more tool that would just add complexity to the data center. It’s simply an extra panel added to vCenter, making it easy to administer.”
Then there were the issues of visibility and monitoring. With basic VMware HA, customers didn’t have visibility into application availability, and often issues would have to be resolved manually only after they were reported by people using the services the application provided. Workaround solutions either degraded performance or eliminated the functionality of native VMware tools such as vMotion and DRS.
Minimal training is required because ApplicationHA is integrated in vCenter, VMware’s central virtualization management console. ApplicationHA also allows for the continued use of vMotion and DRS.
The inability to monitor an application’s health status was another key pain point.
“Visibility and monitoring really help with availability,” continues Symantec’s Pakala. “And that means you no longer have the app team and the infrastructure team operating in separate silos. If an application like Exchange Server hangs, ApplicationHA will try to restart the application. If that doesn’t work, ApplicationHA will hand off a notification to VMware HA, letting it know that Exchange Server is locked up and we need to restart the virtual machine or restart the physical server and fail over.”
Ease of use, visibility, monitoring—they’re key ingredients in a high availability solution for business-critical applications in a virtual environment.

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