Virtual Appliances

VMware to acquire B-hive; Get full understanding of your application perfomance

VMware and B-hive Networks announced this acquisition today, which is a great step forward. Today with VMware’s VirtualCenter product you can manage and monitor recourses, but with the additional B-hive technology you can really monitor and manage the actual application performance like transaction times and end user experience. B-hive runs in a virtual appliance and is completely agentless.

Read the official announcement

Get full control over your ESXi Server

As you probably know ESX 3i is the embedded version of ESX, mainly run from usb flash disks build-in servers from HP, Dell, IBM and FSC, but you can also install this on your own servers. I really love this version as it is so easy and simple and adds extra (and less) functionality to ESX. The main thing about 3i is that the Red Hat service console has been removed and replaced by a small busybox linux version. To keep this service console tiny, 3i comes with build-in hardware monitoring, something a normal ESX server does not have (wish it did). When connecting to a 3i server with your VC client you can see fan speeds and temperatures in your system and you can of course put alarms on them, in case something breaks.

By default the 3i server gives us no access to this small service console, but there are some down sides to this, as certain things can only be done from the service console 🙁 and until VMware builds those missing functionalities into the VC interface you still need to get yourself console access. In the beta versions of 3i there was an option in the advanced settings, but this has been removed in the final releases. VMware has published a knowledge base article that describes how to get console access (this is not officially supported by VMware). See the KB Article. In short you just hit Alt-F1 and then type in ‘unsupported’. The article also explain how to disable this Tech Support Mode, in case you want to.

Getting console access

Of course you do not want to be in the server room all the time and your server might not have some kind of remote access facility, so the first thing you probably want to do is enable SSH access to your server. (Thanks to Lee for this information, and again this is not supported by VMware)

  • edit /etc/inetd.conf (using vi)
  • remove the # (remark) sign in front of the SSH line
  • kill and restart the inetd process (or just reboot your server)
  • So why do you need console access?
    There are multiple reasons why you want to have console access. One of the most common reasons is that you might want to change HBA driver options. To get better performance out of your Qlogic or Emulex HBA most people increase their queue depth (see for instance VMware 100.00 io blog post). To find out what options you can set on your drivers you can use the command vmkload_mod:

  • display your loaded drivers: vmkload_mod --list
  • display parameters for your driver: vmkload_mod -s /mod/your_driver
  • Another reason why you definitely still need console access (unfortunately) is if you want to use thin provisioned virtual disks, a new feature in ESX, but for some reason not exposed in the VC interface yet (i think because it is still experimental supported). Any virtual disks created via the normal interface are pre-allocated disks, so a 100GB virtual disk will use 100GB on your VMFS. With thin provisioned disks the actual virtual disk file will start very small and only grow when you will actually need the disk space. Note: this only works for Virtual Disks on iSCSI and FC SAN, not NFS!

    With the vmkfstools command you can create new virtual disks as ‘thin’ disks. After you created the disks, you can then use the normal VC interface to add that disk to your VM.

    Creating a 100GB thin disk:
    vmkfstools -c 100G -d thin /vmfs/volumes/san_vmfs/my_vm/thin_disk.vmdk

    If you already have a pre-allocated disk, you can convert it to a thin disk as well. Well it is not really converting, but creating a new copy as thin disk. After you have done that, you will need to remove the old disk from the VM and add the new converted copy.

    ‘convert’ copy a existing virtual disk to thin format:
    vmkfstools -i /vmfs/volumes/san_vmfs/my_vm/large_disk.vmdk -d thin /vmfs/volumes/san_vmfs/my_vm/new_thin_disk.vmdk

    Well I am sure there are more reasons why you still want to ‘play’ on the service console, as I am born with a commodore 64, I always want a command prompt 🙂

    Is JeOS comming alive?

    JeOS stands for the concept to run Just Enough OS for your applications. VMware has designed a framework to create and maintain your own JeOS. Some software vendors are now adopting the JeOS concept and will offer their commercial applications in an environment based on JeOS fully supported.

    LiveTime, a company software company making Help Desk and Service Management suites just announced that they are deploying their application with the JeOS. Their Virtual Appliance is really small because of JeOS, around 400MB including the application and database layer. LiveTime is saying that they have been developing and testing its JeOS environment for the last year ro ensure performance and compatibility and now feel fully comfortable to deliver this to their customers.

    LiveTime JeOS

    Read more at LiveTime Website

    After the good, come the bad :-)

    Well Virtual Appliances are really hitting on, not just with the ordinary folks, but also in the hacking community. A virtual appliance has been made by hackers to run as Microsoft Activation server. The Virtual Image is based on VMware’s virtual machine format.

    News Article: Pirates crack Vista Activation Server

    OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) now available as Virtual Appliance


    Well the machines just started rolling out of the factories, but if you are interested to know what the childeren in the poor african countries will have to their disposal, you can check out the OLPC as a virtual appliance. Tom Hoffman has made the OLPC images available on his blog.

    The OLPC Image for VMware
    Read more about the OLPC project

    Microsoft goes Virtual Appliances

    So maybe the biggest news this week is not comming from VMworld, Microsoft just announced their VHD Test Drive Program, which tries to promote the use of Windows Virtual Machines using the VHD disk format for delivering evaluation software by ISVs. This means Microsoft is becoming more flexible with the license restrictions and now ISV, if part of this program, can distribute pre-installed windows operating systems in Virtual Machines to their customers.

    This is great news, as the use of Virtual Appliances or VHD Appliance as Microsoft is naming it, is really a great use of virtualization. It really allows you to test and evaluate software without the need of complex installs and getting specific dedicated equipment for it.

    You can read more about this here

    Microsoft releases their first ‘Virtual Appliance’!

    Yep, you are reading it right! Of course we can not freely distibute the Microsoft Windows operating system in a virtual machine, but if you are Microsoft yourself you can do what ever you want 🙂 So Microsoft has decided to release their Visual Studio Orcas as technology preview in a Virtual Machine. Of course you need to run it on Microsoft Virtual PC or Virtual Server according to Microsoft, but if you really want to, you can just convert it with the free VMware Virtual Machine Importer and run it on any of the VMware products. (Make sure you point the VMware importer to the base1 disk image)

    The Microsoft Virtual Appliances is not small, you need to download 2 big files in total of 5GB. The Virtual Machine runs Windows 2003 Enterprise edition and has a virtual disk of 90gb. It has the new Visual Studio codename Orcas installed and comes the the MSDN library. So every thing you need to start developing your own apps.

    Click here to download the virtual machine

    NEW: Very slick Virtual Appliances have made some very slick virtual machines available. Currently they are offering a basic static webserver and a Tomcat application server on their website. The images are very light weigth. The basic webserver is only a 11mb download and the Tomcat appliance is just a 53mb download. The appliances are not just available as VMware image, but also as XEN image.

    These virtual appliances are really a very good example of what a virtual appliance should look like. They are small, very efficient, have a small footprint and are very easy to work with. When you power on the virtual machine, there is no login prompt, like a true appliance. It just points you to a website from where you can do all the configuration settings. The interface is very nice designed and works very easy.

    The Tomcat virtual appliance

    You webpages are not actually stored in the virtual machine, but you configure a form a shared storage thru the management interface that can use a NFS or Samba share. The Tomcat virtual machine is configured with 256mb of ram and provides excellent performance. And all this for free! Wow, what a great world we live in 🙂

    The appliances are still in beta, but are really already looking very sharp. I am looking forward to see more of these kind of virtual appliances from this company. Hopefully they will make a nice small, secured, single purpose webserver with PHP and MySQL, that would really rock.

    Visit the virtual appliance website here

    Win $100.000 by making an awesome Virtual Appliance!!!!

    This is the first time (and probably the only time) I wish I am not a VMware employee. Anyone that is not an employee, can make an awesome cool Virtual Appliance and win $100.000!!!

    So, what is this whole Virtual Appliance about. Well like in the real world, you can buy appliances right; like Firewall in a box, netscalers, packateers, etc… Black boxes (or what ever color they have). You turn them on, they have no monitors, keyboard or mouse, but just a simple LCD screeen, and almost always work 🙂

    The Virtual Appliance should be the same thing. A Virtual Machine, that you just power on, and it will give you a certain (hopefully usefull) application service. I think like a real appliance the Virtual Appliance should really not have a Console. On the Console it should, like a true appliance, just display this small LCD screen information, mainly with it’s IP address on it, so you know where to surf to configure the thing.

    Well I have tons of ideas for Virtual Appliances, but as I said, I am excluded from the compitition 🙁 So if you do want to participate and need an Idea, drop me a note 🙂

    More about the compitition here

    IBM DB2 now also available is a Virtual Machine

    The list of Virtual Appliances is growing and growing 🙂 Not only small apps are being made available as Virtual Appliances, IBM is now also offering the best database server on this planet available in a Virtual Machine 🙂 A prepacked SuSe with IBM DB2 installed. Jippie 🙂

    IBM DB2 Virtual Appliance