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VKernel looks to reclaim VMware storage with Optimization Pack

VKernel claims its new Optimization Pack will help users reclaim wasted VM storage space, but users are waiting for deeper integration with the company's Capacity Analyzer.

VKernel Corp. is rolling out additions to its Optimization Pack software to help organizations better utilize storage attached to servers virtualized with VMware.

The Optimization Pack includes three new software features – Inventory, Rightsizer and Wastefinder. Inventory provides a sortable list of all virtual machines (VMs) and their network and storage resources. That information can be gleaned through VMware's vCenter management console, but not in an aggregated view, according to Christian Simko, VKernel's senior director of marketing communications.

Rightsizer uses historical virtual machine performance data to assess storage, memory and CPU utilization to allow administrators to tune the infrastructure to improve performance. That can make it possible to consolidate more virtual machines on fewer physical servers. "Many people overprovision resources for fear of performance issues and because they don't have visibility into allocation vs. utilization," Simko said. "Rightsizer sees the actual utilization and provides recommendations."

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Rightsizer can't yet see beyond storage virtualization layers, including thin provisioning available in storage arrays. However, senior director of program management Ken Latimer said VKernel is working to add visibility into thin-provisioned environments.

Wastefinder identifies storage, memory and CPU resources wasted on unused "zombie" VMs, templates and snapshots. Simko said beta testers find an average of 15% to 40% of resources in their environment can be recovered from abandoned, powered-off or temporary zombie VMs.

VKernel's Capacity Analyzer software customers said they can see the benefit of some of the new tools, but would like to see the Optimization Pack delivered in the same virtual appliance as VKernel's Capacity Analyzer capacity optimization product. VKernel currently sells the Optimization Pack as a separate virtual appliance, but officials said Optimization Pack and Capacity Analyzer will be integrated into one virtual appliance in future releases.

"Delivery in a virtual appliance was the biggest reason I chose VKernel [over competitors]," said Rick Scherer, Unix systems administrator at the San Diego Data Processing Corp., a subsidiary of the City of San Diego. Scherer has used Capacity Analyzer for approximately a year, and tested Optimization Pack briefly, and he believes the new features could be useful. "It's very easy in a virtualization environment to oversize a machine," he said. "Having true statistics could also help settle questions with [resource] requestors."

However, Scherer said he probably won't deploy the Optimization Pack until it becomes a part of Capacity Analyzer. "We're already paying support on Capacity Analyzer, so it would be more beneficial to us to wait for it [to be integrated]," he said.

Jon Blomeier, data center analyst at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. in Hershey, Penn., agrees.

"We're trying to reduce the amount of appliances we maintain, and we don't want two if we could manage only one," he said. Blomeier said he'd like to see Rightsizer be able to identify storage volumes running in Raw Device Mode (RDM) vs. volumes that are VMDK files, something VKernel's Latimer said is also on the list for future releases.

Blomeier added that Inventory would be useful in his environment, where storage allocation is "run very tight, down to about a 10% threshold" of free capacity, which requires careful monitoring of the environment.

Blomeier and San Diego Data Processing Corp.'s Scherer are among the administrators tasked with optimizing the underlying data center infrastructure to maintain VMware performance. A recent survey conducted by TheInfoPro found that storage resource management (SRM) tools have moved up the list of general priorities for Fortune 1000 storage managers, who are working on improving storage utilization and moving data off expensive tiers to save money while cutting budgets.

Robert Stevenson, managing director of storage research at TheInfoPro, said collaboration between storage and networking teams is increasing in Fortune 1000 data centers. "Organizations are increasingly pooling resources between storage and networking teams," Stevenson said. "The skill set required of a storage professional is now much broader, encompassing storage, servers, server virtualization and replication."

VKernel is far from the only company offering a VM's-eye view of the storage environment, and vice versa. Competitors include Akorri Inc.'s BalancePoint, Netapp Inc.'s Onaro, Symantec Corp.'s CommandCentral Storage and Tek-Tools Software Inc.'s Virtual Profiler.

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