Rollout: VKernel Virtual Appliance

The VKernel virtual appliance offers chargeback and capacity reporting for VMware environments.

October 12, 2007

5 Min Read
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If you're using VMware ESX extensively but haven't deployed a chargeback tool, or at minimum a system for monitoring resource consumption and available capacity, you will lack valuable ammunition come budget time. Usage measurements can justify infrastructure expansion, help recover costs, even transform IT into a profit center.

The VKernel Capacity and Chargeback Virtual Appliance is ESX-specific software that reports on capacity and resource consumption. It also provides chargeback totals based on a user-defined unit cost for four core metering sources: CPU, RAM, storage and network usage. An unlimited number of custom fields are available for monitoring cooling costs, administrative services, software licensing or whatever else you can dream up. VKernel says the product can handle as many as 300 hosts, so there's definitely room to breathe.

Other software vendors, including Provment, VAlign Software, Vizioncore and Xentro, sell chargeback services for virtual environments, but none offers a virtual appliance. Why does that matter? Like a physical appliance, a virtual appliance is prepackaged and preconfigured to deliver functionality with minimal setup. Because you don't have to design and construct a system from scratch, the virtual appliance can save time, money and your sanity. Just import it onto a single ESX server in your cluster or into VMware Workstation or GSX, fire it up, and voila. You'll still need to declare ESX hosts to monitor, create logical virtual machine groups and define unit costs for metering, but you'd have to do that with other products, too.

The View From AboveYou've likely heard all about the resource consolidation, machine isolation and increased security benefits of virtualization. But less publicized is the fact that virtualization may also improve your ability to view capacity and consumption stats, especially handy for IT shops that want to assign dollar values to resources used by business units, and charge accordingly.

The VKernel virtual appliance is a VMware-based virtual machine running on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, with MySQL, Apache Tomcat and an Ajax app server bundled. It works only in a VMware environment, and it monitors only virtual machines on ESX host servers. VKernel founder and CEO Alex Bakman says he won't expand to other virtualization platforms until those platforms gain more market share.

Immersion Center


VKernel's functionality is based primarily on a concept called the "business service." Business services are containers for capturing aggregate values among groups of virtual machines that either provide a single service, such as e-mail, or that differ in functionality but comprise a particular distributed application or business process, like CRM. The "customer" concept is used to generate chargeback reports, and each customer can have multiple associated business services. Business services can also be made up of ESX folders, clusters and resource pools, so when you deploy additional machines, the appropriate business services are automatically updated. You define the unit cost for CPU, memory, storage and network in predefined or custom increments.

VKernel constructs chargebacks for each resource type or business service by taking a daily average of resources consumed, then averaging those values over the chargeback period, say, a week or month. Version 1.0 is limited to computing averages, but VKernel says future iterations will allow more precise consumption measurements. That's important for computing chargebacks where you need to know totals, not averages, as with power or administrative costs.VKernel provides default resource pricing as well as a simple mechanism for IT to tally its own expenditures, so you can get started quickly—and get back to focusing on the business rather than arm-wrestling unit costs and complicated server groupings.

The reporting capability is fairly robust. You can generate reports on-the-fly or automatically at specified intervals. VKernel's Web site has examples available for viewing and download.Measuring Up

So how much space will full monitoring of a single virtual machine consume? VKernel says to expect 341 kilobytes per VM per day. If you have 50 virtual servers, your database will eat up nearly 6 gigs of disk space yearly—and that's in addition to the default 1.1 GB appliance size. Clearly, you'll want to archive nonessential data to keep the appliance as lean as possible. While VKernel does provide shell scripts to help archive all that historical data, this is one feature that could use improvement. For example, we'd like to have archiving fully integrated into the appliance as part of the GUI.

VKernel says its virtual appliance won't degrade performance of your cluster. An early beta release did exhibit some degradation, but the company says this issue has been resolved.

VKernel 1.0 is available now as a 350 MB compressed downloadable file, an easy Internet grab. Pricing is $495 per CPU socket, per monitored host server, so if you have a three-server cluster, each with two sockets, you'll pay $2,970 in licensing. That includes the first year's support. Thereafter the standard 20% support fees apply, yielding a $594 operating cost in Year 2 and beyond.

Jonathan Berdyck is an NWC and InformationWeek contributor. He manages a team of IT analysts for a healthcare provider based in western Pennsylvania and holds a masters degree in Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon University. He can be reached at [email protected].0

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