WhatsUp Gold Takes On the Virtual World with WhatsVirtual

Ipswitch adds virtual system management capabilities to WhatsUp Gold, going a long way toward simplifying the harried administrator's job.

By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu

Version 14 of WhatsUp Gold, the popular network and server monitoring tool, sports a new module named WhatsVirtual that, simply put, makes the product virtualization-aware.

WhatsUp Gold has grown in features and capabilities from an SMB (small and midsize business) network management tool to something appropriate for the enterprise, yet the product still remembers its roots as an easy-to-master tool. However, virtualization has added another layer of complexity for WUG and its network management peers.

The problem stems from the failure of management platforms to "look inside" a virtual machine. Virtualization hosts based on bare-metal (also known as Type 1) hypervisors, such as ESX and ESXi, segregate virtual machines into their own partitions, thereby preventing management clients from seeing what is happening on the virtual machine.

Complicating matters further is the nonstatic nature of VMs, which can be "powered on" based upon needs, and quickly reconfigured, provisioned or eliminated as needed. By affording IT departments an inside look at what's up within the VMs under their care, the new module prepares administrators to do battle against those virtualized gremlins that can plague modern networks. Products that can tackle that complexity deserve a look, and WUG 14.2.1 with WhatsVirtual fits the bill.

WhatsVirtual brings a great deal of functionality to WhatsUp Gold and will turn out to be a must-have tool for WUG users who are incorporating ESX or ESXi into their server environments. Of course, as part of WUG, WhatsVirtual is only applicable to shops running WUG, and while the new module is a valuable addition, I don't expect to see administrators abandon their existing network management tools to just gain access to the new VM management features found in WhatsVirtual.

A closer look at WhatsVirtual

WhatsVirtual is designed to do exactly as the name implies: show what is virtual in the enterprise. But visualization of the world of virtual components is only the starting point. A good management tool needs to deliver discovery, inventory, reporting and control, as well as auditing capabilities, all of which WhatsVirtual delivers effectively, albeit indirectly. As an add-on module for WUG, WhatsVirtual leverages many of the management and reporting capabilities native to WUG.

To investigate the management capabilities that WhatsVirtual adds to WUG, I set up a test network that included two physical servers running VMware's ESX V3.0. The idea was to perform a discovery of the ESX host and all of its associated virtual machines and then be able to monitor and manage those systems.

Everything begins with the discovery process. With WUG, that is accomplished using a discovery wizard, which I launched from the tools menu on the main WUG GUI. The wizard starts when you choose "discover devices" from the menu, which then allowed me to initiate a discovery session. Discovery sessions can be launched manually or set up to run at predetermined times via a schedule. That proves to be a handy feature on networks that change a lot; I was able to set up different schedules for discovery and found that most users will be served best by a daily or weekly discovery schedule, which will detect new devices added to the network-automatically. The scans can use a range of IP addresses or a single IP address to discover a VMware host. There are also advanced options available under a submenu, which allows a discovery scan to be customized. Here, I was able to preselect the discovered device roles and assign actions and monitors to the discovered devices automatically.

For example, if I wanted to associate active and passive monitors with my ESX hosts, the advanced options enabled that. Once launched, the discovery process created a list of ESX hosts and their associated virtual machines, which can then be added to the WUG database. I found that the discovery process worked well and was able to locate my test ESX host, as well as the six functioning guests associated with the host.

I added the newly discovered hosts and associated VMs to WUG using the "add completed devices" option on the menu. Once that was accomplished, the visual network map under WUG showed the newly added ESX host, and I was able to drill down from there into the VMs running on that host. The discovery process offers several options, ranging from group assignment to authentication, which automates logging into the individual VMs for deeper discovery.

I found that once systems have been discovered and added to the WUG database, several additional capabilities are presented. For example, virtual systems can be monitored for utilization and activity and, most importantly, I was able to define actions. Using the VMware action dialog, I was able to define specific actions to take place and then apply those actions to VMs on the network. For example, if I wanted to reboot certain VMs, I could script an action that sends a reboot command to the VM. I could also assign that action to several VMs and execute it like a script. Of course, I was able to do a lot more than a reboot; I also had options to shut down guests, suspend sessions, initiate snapshots and power on and off VMs. The actions are stored in an actions library, and once associated with a monitored VM, those actions become available from a right-click/pull-down menu-allowing me to execute those actions right from the monitoring screen/system dashboard.

WhatsVirtual works hand-in-hand with VMware's API, which means users will have access to threshold configuration information and Alert Center workflows. In other words, it becomes quite simple to define alerts for VM hosts and guests. Those alerts can be fine-tuned to create notifications of potential problems, such as utilization exceeding preset levels or disk space issues. The idea here is that I no longer needed to use VMware vSphere in conjunction with WUG to monitor VM hosts and guests-it can all be done from within WUG. That brings virtual and physical machine management much closer to the single dashboard ideology, where all major functions can be accomplished from a single management application.

WhatsVirtual brings several VM-related reporting options to WUG, allowing you to create custom reports that focus on the needs of VM management. Several canned reports are included, and customized reports can be quickly created to include VM-specific information. Reports and reporting parameters include a Virtual Host List report, which details the name and IP address of the VMware ESX/ESXi host machine and all associated virtual machines; and a Virtual Host Attributes report, which displays all the host server details including running configuration of the server (for example, VMware ESX or ESXi and its version), the build number and the boot time. Reporting capabilities include support for individual server performance reporting, including CPU, memory, disk and network interface utilization metrics to virtual machines. What's more, there are workspace reports that reflect resource (for example, CPU, memory, disk and network interface) allocation and consumption by the host and associated guest machines.