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Other Operational Issues

ESX makes extensive use of memory. There are operational concerns regarding the use of memory, too. The main issue with memory is to prevent the swapping of memory during runtime of VMs. The runtime covers the memory actually used, and not always what is allocated. A VM may have 256GB of memory allocated to it. If we allocate 64Gbs to a VM, and this much memory is allocated to all the VMs, on a 64GB ESX host, only one VM could be created and the memory will be overcommitted as the ESX takes some memory. If the goal is to run 20 VMs, there is a memory requirement of 1280GB, which is quite a bit over the 1TB server memory limit inherent in ESX. Which means that if all the 64GB of memory is actually used by a VM, the ESX host will need to start swapping (or paging) memory out in large chunks to accommodate the running of another VM.

If in reality only 1GB of each VM is used, only 20GB of the available 64GB of memory is in use at any time, allowing more VMs to be created and used without swapping memory, even though there is potential for up to 1280GB of memory to be used. In this case, it is best to assign memory sparingly and to give a VM only what it needs to run. This way, memory management will allow a denser population of VMs to run.

Consider the following thought: With ESX, we are now back in time to the realm of limited resources. There are no longer gobs of memory and disk available for any particular machine, but a realm where memory and disk can be vast; but as more VMs are added, more resources are used. The goal is now to preserve memory. For example, consider programming the old Commodore 64, where no more than 360K would fit on a single floppy; to go past this, more than one floppy had to be used. Everyone programmed to the 360K limit of the floppy so that code would fit on a single disk. After another floppy was in use, the applications usage went downhill, performance suffered, and wait time increased. With ESX, we are back in this realm where we need to be cognizant of the limitations of the host, which is trying to do much, much more with less than ever before.

All VMs affect the resource limits of the host. Therefore, resource management becomes a huge issue (as covered in another chapter). Note, however, that changes to the way resources are used, assigned, and managed can inadvertently affect all VMs on a host or in a farm.

Limiting memory assignment to VMs can allow more VMs to run in a single ESX host without impacting memory or performance limits.

Life-Cycle Management

Because it is easy to overuse resources besides memory, it is very important to have some sort of life-cycle management tool in place, so that VMs can be ordered and approved by the responsible parties. With VMware vSphere vCenter Server, now the VMware vCenter Orchestrator product can provide a limited form of life-cycle management. The VMware Life-Cycle Manager product requires its own license, and it provides a necessary life-cycle management process.

A life-cycle management tool is, however, only as good as the process backing it up. A tool is not useful without a written life-cycle process. At the very least, such a process should include the following:

  • Virtual machine request with the resources required in terms of memory, CPU, disk, and network.
  • Virtual machine request with justification, lifetime of VM, VM owner, application owner, and manager involved. This should also include what to do with the VM after the lifetime is over, such as archive, delete, and so on.
  • Management approval of the justification.
  • Architectural review of the virtual machine resource requirements with the results being whether a new ESX host is required, as well as the actual resources to allocate, which most likely will be lower than the requested amounts. This should include exactly which networks and storage devices should be used, as well as the ESX host to initially place the VM. Architectural review should consider FT, DPM, DRS, SRM, EVC, SIOC, NetIOC, and HA, as well the VM's impact on any other VM. Has this VM superseded another VM?
  • Application design review for the application and operating system to be placed within the VM. This should include a review of all agents required within the virtual environment.
  • Placement of the VM within a development cluster for testing.
  • Staging the VM through QA to determine that all is working as expected.
  • Staging the VM into production with a final review before going live.
  • Final sign off on live VM by VM owner.
  • VM decommission and disposition.

Throughout a VM's life cycle, the ownership of the VM may change. It is very important to track such changes. If a VM has issues, a virtualization administrator will need to go to this VM owner to assist in solving the problem. It could also be that the VM has now become obsolete and as such is at the end of its life cycle. Life-cycle management will help control your ever-growing number of VMs and limit dependency issues.

Such controls often exist for physical machines, and they should be translated into the virtual environment. Although it is very easy to create a VM, it should never happen at the request of anyone directly but should follow a life-cycle process.

The virtual machine life-cycle process is the one process that will aid in debugging operational issues caused by the politics behind virtual machine creation.

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