Management Issues, CA-Style

CA's design goals for an ASM-managed ESX shop? How about dynamic resource brokering per host to optimize application performance, holding VMotioning as a last resort rather than a first step. Oh, and reducing the menial workload for high-cost VM talent in your IT shop.

Joe Hernick

January 4, 2008

3 Min Read
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I had a chat with Paula Daley, a product marketing VP at CA, about Unicenter ASM and virtualization management strategies in general. CA has worked hard to leverage its existing broad cross-platform base as virtual environment management has grown in its product line. CA's design goals for an ASM-managed ESX shop? How about dynamic resource brokering per host to optimize application performance, with VMotioning as a last resort. Oh, and reducing the menial workload for high-cost VM talent in your IT shop. For background, Unicenter ASM (Advanced System Management), introduced back in November 2006, strives to be platform agnostic, with plug-ins for VMware ESX, Microsoft Virtual Server, Solaris (Sun Enterprise, Mid-Range, Sun Clusters and Sun Fire), Red Hat Advanced Clusters, and HP & IBM enterprise gear. While no specifics were provided, there were strong hints that open source virt platforms (most likely Xen-flavored) are in testing and are likely candidates in a future ASM upgrade. CA has partnered with VMWare and positions the product suite as a complement to native tools like Virtual Center. ASM isn't tied to the ESX hypervisor; a formal discovery process is run and managed servers (both physical and virtual) run a small CA app for monitoring, management, and reporting.

I chatted with Daley as part of a pending big-picture VM management piece, and our conversation hit on recurring themes from other vendor and customer interviews. Outside of the expected function/feature list, CA pitches Unicenter ASM as a solution for skill set mis-matches in enterprise IT staffing. CA's customers (and operational managers I've met with) are finding themselves with high-cost VM experts on the production line to address real-time management and production allocation issues to meet SLAs. Capital costs aside, old-school management of 1x1 physical servers is straightforward; running consolidated and hosted platforms get a bit more thorny. A small, Luddite part of me still misses the one app, one server model.

The sales pitch from CA rests on the Unicenter ASM???s normalization of operations functions across multiple platforms and heterogeneous environments, providing lower pay grade employees one management platform with role-based access, a common interface, and toolset to get specific operational tasks done. Theoretically, this frees up virtualization talent for bigger and better work.

All the drivers for server consolidation and virtualization over the past few years have yielded savings in rack space, utilities, and capital spends, but left many of us short in our talent pools. Front line operations staff are faced with new demands and challenges; server to admin ratios have become ill-defined as VMs proliferate, and the very definition of what a "server" is has stretched as virtualization gains broader acceptance in production environments. Faced with these challenges, customer sites are reaching out to CA and other vendors for help. Daley calls it the "law of unintended consequences," where the end result of increased server optimization can leave a shop with stressed-out staff and unbalanced technical solutions, either underutilized due to traditional worst-case loads or overtaxed or at risk when VMotioning goes awry.

Designing IT solutions to fit business requirements isn't exactly a novel idea. Successfully implementing an elegant, business-driven resource management strategy incorporating physical and virtual servers is a worthwhile goal. How many of us can keep a straight face and claim victory in the boardroom? As always, the devil is in the details; policy-based solutions (from CA or anyone else), regardless of their underlying technology, can only be as good as the organization rules they run.My favorite nugget from today???s interview: Unicenter ASM has what I call a "training-wheels mode" for customers unwilling to place their operations fully in the hand of an automated system. CA's tools will monitor, notify, and ... make a strong recommendation for resolution rather than directly implementing a change. An administrator can then implement Unicenter's recommendations. Apparently a number of CA's customers choose to have a human being in the feedback loop. Daley likened it to the first test pilot to activate an autopilot and trust a machine with the flying.

I'm put more in mind of George Jetson's gig at Spacely's Space Sprockets.

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