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Weighing Linux server consolidation tools

Choosing the best Linux server consolidation software for your data center hinges on factors other than cost. This tip compares Novell's PlateSpin, HP and VMware's Capacity Planner in terms of your data center requirements.

Over the past decade, reducing energy usage in the data center has been all about server consolidation. But deciding which servers to consolidate and which server consolidation software to use is another story altogether.

While there are some generic rules of thumb in identifying which consolidation candidates -- considering the role of each server as well as memory, CPU and I/O – you need to truly understand your data center resources to make informed decisions about which tools to use.

In this tip, we describe options for Linux server consolidation that can analyze a data center environment, consolidate the right servers and manage these servers going forward.

Using PlateSpin for server consolidation
Novell Inc.'s PlateSpin suite offers an option to achieve these consolidation goals. The PlateSpin product portfolio includes tools to facilitate the planning and analysis of a data center consolidation (PlateSpin Recon), to physically accomplish the migration (PlateSpin Migrate) and to manage day-to-day operations (PlateSpin Orchestrate).

PlateSpin gathers performance information to develop a profile of the workloads on each server. It can also look at energy usage and cooling requirements in either a manual mode or by gathering available data. Collecting this raw data over a period of time helps ensure that you get an accurate picture of a data center's real-world requirements.

Once analysis is complete, the tool builds a set of consolidation scenarios to match the requirements from the data. It uses real data to map servers onto a physical machine to optimize the available resources and reduce excess capacity. The server consolidation software also supports what-if modeling to account for future requirements and appropriate levels of reserve capacity to accommodate potential demand surges.

PlateSpin Migrate provides the tools to perform physical-to-virtual, virtual-to-virtual, virtual-to-physical and image-to-virtual migrations. Live file- and block-based transfers enable moving mission-critical systems without taking data offline. The tool also supports virtual-to-physical and physical-to-physical server sync for running systems. When used in conjunction with PlateSpin Recon, the entire migration process can be automated.

PlateSpin Orchestrate is the final piece of the puzzle. In most cases, a data center consolidation project may have been completed and the system placed into production, but it's still important to keep everything running smoothly. The only way to keep a server consolidation project from falling short is to monitor performance and take action to prevent service disruption.

PlateSpin Orchestrate can fully automate large virtual server farms with a combination of policy-based management rules job-and-resource management tools. The technology enables rapid server repurposing through workload migration and the provisioning of new virtual machine instances.

PlateSpin's suite makes sense for data centers with many servers that require constant monitoring and management. While you may pay more for this suite of products, the combination of Recon, Migrate and Orchestrate helps a data center manage servers during their entire lifecycle. PlateSpin's suite also makes sense for organizations that have large server consolidation projects on the roster and want a single-source technology that addresses the full project cycle, from planning to conversion to maintenance.

HP's server consolidation software with virtualization
While Hewlett-Packard Co. is known for its hardware, it also offers a range of virtualization tools that complement its server hardware products, including management and monitoring tools. In addition to these product offerings, the company offers HP Virtualization Assessment Services which involve on-site support and data-gathering capabilities with VMware Capacity Planner.

HP's server automation software consists primarily of applications acquired through the Opsware acquisition. These offerings provide a full range of server lifecycle management tools that include baselining, provisioning and patching for physical and virtual servers. These automation tools work in conjunction with other products, such as HP's Storage Essentials to provide a consolidated management framework for all data center assets.

Many large IT organizations have standardized on HP hardware and management tools such as HP Openview. For these shops, including the Opsware toolset is a logical choice and can even save money over the long term as compared with single-point solutions or integrating another vendor's products into the mix.

Managing server consolidation with VMware's Capacity Planner
VMware Inc. also offers a range of tools that complement its server and workstation virtualization products. As mentioned previously, VMware Capacity Planner competes directly with the PlateSpin Recon product. It performs data gathering, although the capacity assessment function targets consultants and professional services providers.

CapacityIQ uses both data gathering and capacity modeling to identify high-demand applications. A dashboard with analysis charges and graphs presents the captured information visually. For quick identification of key performance indicators, this information can be viewed in real time and from a historical perspective. A report provides recommendations for configurations to support existing workloads and those anticipated through the modeling function.

VMware is an industry leader in server virtualization software and is the product of choice for IT shops large and small. So for shops with VMware already installed, VMware's server consolidation software makes sense. Shops with VMware already installed can benefit from the tight integration between VMware Capacity Planner and their existing production environment.

Point Solutions
VKernel offers several tools that provide functionality similar to that of PlateSpin Recon and VMware CapacityIQ. Capacity Optimization works with existing virtual machines to identify underutilized server resources. Performance Optimization attempts to identify capacity bottlenecks to help reallocate resources for better performance. It also includes a capacity analyzer function to help with virtual machine deployments.
VKernel's greatest advantage is cost. Small- and medium-sized enterprises can use VKernel's tools to get a sense of their current server utilization and to make strategic decisions without breaking their budget. The results can indicate adequate capacity and therefore also indicate that an expensive consolidation project can be postponed.

Which tools to choose
IT purchasing decisions are influenced by many factors. The technologies already deployed in an environment, vendor affinity, past experience, risk avoidance and inertia frequently outweigh cost. Choosing a vendor whose technology is already installed for other tasks is a safe decision -- even if it means going to management for budget approval. On the other hand, for organizations new to new server consolidation, cost becomes more important. But for all data centers, making the right choice on server consolidation tools requires weighing all the available options.

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