By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu
The rapid growth of virtualization has created complex IT environments that are becoming increasingly harder to manage. Part of that management challenge comes from hastily deployed products, which often lack the proper deployment documentation needed to monitor the virtual infrastructure in place.
Veeam Software aims to bring order to that documentation and management chaos, at least for VMware vSphere-powered infrastructures. Veeam Reporter 4.0 focuses on three categories of information: reporting, change management and capacity planning.
All in all, I found Veeam Reporter 4.0 easy to install and use. The product deserves high marks for its graphical reporting capabilities and the ease with which reports can be generated. There are several wizards that help with installation, setup and reporting that newbie users will appreciate. However, I would prefer a little more automation when it comes to collecting data, and perhaps a real-time method of gathering data from VMware's vCenter and the various objects on the network. The product is priced at an affordable $375 per server socket and is currently available from Veeam Software and its authorized resellers.
Veeam Reporter 4.0's capabilities make it useful for understanding complex virtual environments. First and foremost is the reporting capability, which is now based upon Microsoft SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services). I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth and depth of reports offered; perhaps "reports" is not the correct word to use here, as the software blends monitoring with static reporting to create a visual, interactive representation of the infrastructure. Regardless, the reports or screens offered a vast array of details specific to virtualized environments and supported filtering, drill-down and customization options.
I found the best place to start with an evaluation was the dashboard, which was intuitive and could be customized, a powerful feature. It was also very easy to set up. I simply had to drag and drop report icons onto the dashboard to activate the reports. A multitude of options are available; I selected CPU usage, host performance and storage utilization. Having those reports on the dashboard gave me a quick picture of the load placed on the virtual infrastructure and its general health, and gave me a good starting point from which to track down performance and utilization problems. What's more, I was able to judge at a glance how well the infrastructure was meeting user demands throughout the day.
Of course, helping to make an IT administrator's day a little easier is only part of Veeam Reporter 4.0's functions. The other part of management puzzle involves business needs and policies, and Veeam Reporter 4.0 also tackles the needs of bean counters and department managers. For example, I was able to create reports for storage utilization by department, storage utilization by cluster and memory usage by departmental virtual machine. Each of those reports would have value when it came to IT budgeting for departmental charges, SLAs (service-level agreements) or business unit resource utilization. That is only a small sample of the reports of this type available.
Some of these capabilities are only to be expected. Where Version 4.0 differs from earlier versions of Veeam Reporter and from competing products is in the adoption of a new reporting engine, which uses Microsoft's SSRS. The move to SSRS Web-enables Veeam Reporter 4.0, adds more reporting capabilities and eliminates the reliance on third-party products to create reports. SSRS also makes it possible to work with larger data sets and store more information, and therein lies the real advantage of Version 4.0-improved change management.
Veeam Reporter 4.0 is able to gather information from vCenter and store that information, recording every change and activity performed. That data goes into reports that provide a detailed history of changes made. Change management is a powerful tool for troubleshooting complex problems. To test Veeam's change management capabilities, I made some changes to a few hosts, reducing the amount of memory and storage available, which harmed performance.
After the changes, I ran a performance report. Noting that VM performance was down, I ran a configuration report that highlighted the changes made to the host. With that information, I was able to quickly determine what changes were made and isolate the problem. While my experiment was very basic, it does highlight one of the biggest improvements offered by Version 4.0. Applying that change management reporting capability to a multisite, multi-vCenter environment could potentially save administrators countless hours when troubleshooting a thorny problem, especially if the change was made automatically by vCenter itself.
To use the change management capability, there are a few prerequisites, which also have an impact on most of the reporting features. First of all, you will need to set up data-gathering jobs-I defined several "collection jobs" to gather information from my vCenter. Those collection jobs are automated and are executed based upon a schedule. Collection jobs require a bit of information to function, such as host name, credentials and a scope. You have multiple options when you create a collection job, including querying a single server, a group of servers or a defined cluster. Collection jobs can be scheduled to run at a certain time of day or at set intervals, such as every 4 hours. I found that more frequent collections provide more usable data, although that does increase the load on the Veeam Reporter system. It will take some experimentation to determine what collection schedule works best for a given environment.
Reports follow a scheduling model as well, and have a delivery component. For example, I set up a change management report that was scheduled to be sent as a PDF file to my e-mail account every day at 8:00 a.m. Of course, there are many more options when it comes to defining and scheduling a reporting job. Administrators will need to decide which reports are most useful to them and the frequency of those reports.
Scheduling is not required, but does make life a little easier-all collection jobs and reports can be manually executed if need be, and most administrators will probably schedule collection jobs, but manually execute reports.
Veeam Software touts capacity planning as one of the most impressive features of the product, and I tend to agree. Veeam Reporter 4.0 offers several reports that show usage trends and lend themselves well to predicting capacity needs. For example, a storage report shows the amount of storage used, who is using it and what is available; that report can be used as a guide to reallocate or deploy or more storage. The same can be said for reports on CPU usage, memory usage, number of VMs and so on. That information, packaged into an Excel spreadsheet, becomes very helpful when identifying trends and planning for capacity.
I found the infrastructure reports, which create a visual representation of the virtual infrastructure, to be very useful as well. The reports can be generated online and exported as a PDF file, Excel spreadsheet or Visio diagram. Infrastructure reporting gathers up all of the vCenter object inventory and creates an annotated diagram of the network. I was able to modify the diagram by moving objects around and adding additional information. Infrastructure reporting will prove to be a powerful documentation and support tool, simply because it gives the network a "face."