Product Review: SolarWinds Virtualization Manager 7.0
Product: SolarWinds Virtualization Manager 7.0
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As someone who spends a lot of time writing about virtualization, I am always on the lookout for third party tools that have the potential to improve upon the capabilities provided by the hypervisor vendors. Recently, I managed to acquire a pre-release build of SolarWinds Virtualization Manager. I have had good experiences with SolarWinds products in the past, and could not resist taking a look at Virtualization Manager 7.0.
SolarWinds has made the deployment process really simple. Prior to starting the review, I was provided with two ZIP files, one containing the VMware version of Virtualization Manager, and the other containing the Hyper-V version. Both versions can be used to manage both VMware and Hyper-V. It’s just that the Hyper-V version contains a Hyper-V virtual appliance, and the VMware version presumably contains a VMware virtual appliance. I opted to download the Hyper-V version, which was roughly about 2.66 GB in size.
After extracting the ZIP file’s contents, I found that the ZIP file contained a traditional installer (which is used to install the Orion Console), but also included a pre-configured virtual appliance. I decided to go with the virtual appliance. I simply imported it into Hyper-V as a virtual machine, and then linked the newly imported VM to my virtual switch. From there, I was able to boot and begin using the virtual appliance. Incidentally, the Hyper-V virtual appliance consumes 8 GB of RAM, two virtual CPUs, and 2.78 GB of physical storage space (this can increase to 10 GB over time).
Preparing for Use
As is the case with the virtual appliances created by many other vendors, the Virtualization Manager appliance doesn’t contain a full blown interface. There are a few basic options to configure things such as your network or your time zone, but the appliance acts primarily as a Web Server. Once booted, the appliance displays an application URL and a management URL on screen. You can then use your browser to access the Virtualization Manager interface.
I went ahead and opened the Microsoft Edge browser, and navigated to the application URL. I was immediately taken to the log in prompt. One thing that I definitely appreciated about this prompt was the fact that the default administrative credentials were filled in automatically. Very often when I review products, I have to either look up the default credentials in the documentation, or I have to contact the vendor. SolarWinds didn’t make me do any of that.
This actually brings up an important point about this review. When I write a software review, I almost always try to complete the review without using the product documentation. That way I can get a feel for how intuitive the software is to use. I will usually go back and look at the documentation once the review is done, just so that I can get a sense of whether or not the documentation is useful and well written. In this particular case, I was not provided with any information about the product that I am reviewing. I do not have a copy of the documentation, nor do I have a list of the new features that SolarWinds is introducing in version 7.0
Thankfully, SolarWinds made things super easy on me. After logging in for the first time, I was asked to accept a license agreement, and was then taken to a configuration wizard. This wizard, which you can see in the figure below, guided me step by step through the configuration process.
SolarWinds has a really nice configuration wizard.
For this review, I decided to give SolarWinds Virtualization Manager a variety of platforms to work with. I linked Virtualization Manager to a VMware server in my lab, as well as to a Hyper-V server that was running on Windows Server 2012 R2. Since Windows Server 2016 was just released, I decided to also link Virtualization Manager to three Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V servers to see if the software would work with it. Unfortunately, Virtualization Manager did not recognize my Hyper-V 2016 servers.
Using Virtualization Manager
Once the configuration process was complete, I was taken to the screen shown in the figure below
This is the initial screen that you see when you begin using Virtualization Manager.
The first place that I went after getting Virtualization Manager running was the dashboard. If you look at the figure below, you will notice a series of tabs along the top of the interface (Explore, Reporting, Capacity Planner, Setup, and Help). I mention this as a way of making the point that the software is very feature rich. Even so, the dashboards seem to be the go to place for information.
This is the Virtualization Manager dashboard view.
As you look at the figure above, the first thing that you will probably notice is that some of the dashboard panes are empty. The reason for this is that none of my systems match the criteria for these particular pains (excessive disk utilization, memory ballooning, etc.). For the panes that do contain data, some provide the option to view the data either as a list or as a chart (which I love).
The Environment Map is another nice touch. This map lists all of my VMs, but also includes a row of summary tiles at the bottom of the pane. These tiles, which are similar to Windows live tiles contain live data about the virtualized environment. For example, the VMs tile is currently selected. This tile displays the number 23, which reflects the presence of 23 virtual machines. Those virtual machines are displayed within the environment map, and I can click on any of these VMs to view performance and configuration information, as shown in the figure below. Similarly, the Host tile contains the number two, reflecting the fact that there are two virtualization hosts, and clicking on that tile would provide access to those hosts.
Clicking on a VM causes VM specific information to be displayed.
The most useful portion of the Dashboards screen has got to be the All Alerts pane. This pane lists all of the recent alerts that have been generated within your virtualized environment. For example, my dashboard currently includes alerts related to things like host memory utilization and datastore over allocation. Clicking on an alert takes you to a screen that provides more detailed information about the resource that triggered the alert. More importantly, the screen provides a specific recommendation on how to deal with the alert. You can see what this looks like in the figure below.
Virtualization Manager displays recommendations for each alert.
As you look at the figure above, you will notice the buttons in the lower, right corner. The Evaluate Now button lets you recheck the environment’s status so that you can see whether or not the alert is still an issue. The Configure button allows you to reconfigure the alert’s threshold. Of course you can also disable alerts in the event that they are not helpful to you.
Virtualization Manager is also equipped with an awesome reporting engine. You have already seen the dashboard view, but what I neglected to mention is that there are a number of different dashboards to choose from. Beyond that however, the interface contains a Reporting tab that you can use to access the dashboards, information about trends, and an interface that allows you to perform your own queries.
Incidentally, Virtualization Manager includes a huge number of reports, but the interface allows you to filter the list of available reports by selecting checkboxes. For example, I have selected the Sprawl checkbox in the figure below, and Virtualization Manager listed nearly a dozen reports related to VM sprawl. It is worth noting that any of the reports can be written to an Excel workbook.
Virtualization Manager includes a huge number of reports.
The Orion Console
Virtualization Manager works well enough by itself, but SolarWinds designs most of their products to integrate with the Orion console. Orion is a centralized console that can aggregate information from a variety of SolarWinds products. Orion has been around for years (with new versions released on a periodic basis), and I really expected Orion to mirror the information that is natively displayed in Virtualization Manager. How wrong I was.
SolarWinds has revamped Orion so that it will not only report issues with your virtualization infrastructure, but also help you to address those issues. It is worth noting however, that Virtualization Manager has to run for about a week before Orion will have enough information to make any recommendations.
After letting Virtualization Manager collect data for about a week, I logged into Orion and pulled up the Virtualization Summary. I was really curious how Orion would respond to my organization because most of the servers that Virtualization Manager is monitoring are lab servers. My monitored environment consists of four Hyper-V lab servers, two Hyper-V production servers, and one VMware lab server. You can see the resulting summary in the figure below.
This is the virtualization summary for my environment.
As you can see in the Figure, Orion called out a few items in red. The list of the top ten hosts by memory utilization showed one of my lab servers consuming 90% of its available memory. That wasn’t a surprise. I had powered up a bunch of VMs in an effort to tax the system.
I next decided to turn my attention to the list of alerts generated by Virtualization Manager. The alerts are displayed on the Virtualization Summary screen, but are out of frame in the previous figure. I decided to click on a Datastore Overallocation alert, and was taken to the screen shown in the figure below. As you can see in the figure, Orion displays a list of machines that have triggered the same alert, as well as alert details and a recommendation.
SolarWinds provides recommendations for dealing with the alert.
Next, I decided to check on that memory over utilization condition. Sure enough, Virtualization Manager had issued an alert. Clicking on the alert brought up a screen saying that the host was in an alert state because its memory usage exceeded the 70% threshold that SolarWinds had established for healthy hosts. The screen, which you can see below, recommended checking for workload imbalances.
This is the warning triggered by excessive memory utilization at the host level.
As I worked through the various alerts, I can honestly say that I began to get a much better feel for where the issues exist on my network. The Orion console provides a screen where you can see all of the active alerts. Just by glancing at this list, which you can see in the figure below, I was able to tell that I have some storage issues on my network. I had a lot of high latency datastores, and some storage that was over committed.
It is worth noting that the software can also perform predictive analytics. For example, it might predict based on past trends that a particular host is going to see a huge CPU spike next Tuesday. This predictive analysis gives the administrator the chance to be proactive.
The All Active Alerts screen shows all of the issues that need to be addressed.
When I write a review for this site, it has become customary to assign the product a numerical star rating ranging from zero to five, with five stars being the highest possible score. I decided to give Virtualization Manager 7.0 a score of 4.8, which is a gold star award.
Virtualization Manager did a really good job of finding the issues that exist within my virtualization infrastructure. I also like the fact that Virtualization Manager provides meaningful advice on how to fix those issues.
I think that the best thing about this software, is that all of the alerts were meaningful. SolarWinds has done a great job of keeping the unimportant, nuisance alerts at bay. Competing systems are often plagued by noise alerts that just won’t go away. SolarWinds gives admins the ability to acknowledge an alert, and to disable alerts if necessary.
VirtualizationAdmin.com Rating 4.8/5