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Shining a light on application performance in virtual environments

Using Quest Software's Foglight, the BECU credit union successfully monitors and manages its applications, as well as servers, in virtualized environments.

Virtualization can be hard for some IT folks to get their heads around because it's, well, virtual. So Kyle Welsh, vice president of technology services at BECU, Washington state's largest credit union, said the organization decided to start with their non-production environment using VMware. Then along comes the latest version of Quest Software's Foglight product for application management, which BECU has been using for several years and which now supports VMware ESX Server.

The idea of monitoring applications and how well the business was performing was something foreign to us, but it's where we're at right now [with Foglight].
Kyle Welsh
Vice president of technology servicesBECU

According to Welsh, Foglight has helped the IT department become a trusted partner to business, but the new support for VMware provided an unexpected byproduct: a quick education on virtualization through Foglight's ability to graphically represent the virtual architecture.

"We probably have 25 people logging in and looking at Foglight; some have clicked into the VMware stuff [and they see] a really good graphical representation of how the VMware architecture is laid out. It's a pretty cheap and quick education method of what VMware is. If you're not familiar with it, it [can seem] like black magic," he said.

For BECU, evolving along with the Foglight tool was just a continuation of how they'd always worked. Foglight initially replaced an enterprise monitoring tool BECU was using just to monitor servers. At the time, "the idea of monitoring applications and how well the business was performing was something foreign to us, but it's where we're at right now [with Foglight]," Welsh said. "There are a hundred different ways to monitor servers, but just because they're up 100 percent of the time, [if] your business doesn't function, it doesn't matter."

Monitoring the business
In addition to monitoring and managing the server operating systems and applications, BECU has both an Oracle environment and an extensive SQL Server environment, which Foglight also supports.

"Where we're going now is monitoring above the application level, to monitor the business process level -- to truly monitor how our business is functioning," Welsh said. "Foglight has the capability of tying into service windows."

Essentially, Welsh explained, "you can have a whole bunch of servers or applications down, but if it's outside of business hours, it has no business impact. That's huge [insight], and it's very desirable for an enterprise monitoring tool to look at application server availability against service windows, when you needed to be up and when you didn't. It's more about business impact measurement. If you're looking at it from the business impact, you can triage it better and prioritize based on the business impact or potential business impact."

That perspective, Welsh said, has been key to the value-add IT brings to the business.

"We've worked hard over the last several years to get an excellent working relationship with the business side, to get to a trusted advisor role at the table with business," Welsh said.

And now Welsh is leveraging the application management capability to help the organization move forward with virtualization.

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"We had some hurdles dipping our toes into the VM area; application owners and server owners were leery of losing control of what was running on dedicated servers. So our approach was we've got a lot of infrastructure built out in the non-production project and test environment, so it's probably more beneficial to virtualize that environment and get people comfortable before we do it in production," he said.

VMware's VirtualCenter enables the provisioning of virtual machines and performance monitoring of physical servers and virtual machines, but Welsh said Foglight provides a "single pane of glass" to the entire infrastructure.

"VirtualCenter is a good tool, but it takes a lot of clicks to get the information you need," he said. "To get Foglight to work with VirtualCenter, you just point at the IP address. It correlates the data and puts it in a more central view. When my VM guy saw the Foglight version of VMware he was speechless. He could see our entire VM infrastructure, and he was able to drill down to the ESX server he wanted. It was a single-pane-of-glass view."

Now, Welsh said, the main VMware administrator starts at Foglight instead of VirtualCenter. When actions are needed, the administrator still needs to go to VirtualCenter, but that's one of the areas Welsh hopes Quest will evolve going forward.

The challenges of managing virtualized environments
Managing an environment that includes virtualization will be a challenge confronting many organizations, said Kent Mingus, director of product marketing at Quest Software Inc. in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

"Because of all the dynamic change going on in the virtual environment, a lot of businesses are starting to suffer impact against applications that in the past have been pretty much running OK," he said. "Now with the influx of changes caused by virtualization, things are breaking. A lot people are going back to application management and looking for solutions, not just at the OS level, but higher."

With Foglight 5.2, organizations can monitor the impact virtualization changes can have on databases, applications and end users, while simultaneously correlating the usage of resources on both physical servers and virtual machines.

BECU plans to deploy virtualization in its production environment. "As servers are retired or we have projects touching production servers, part of the process now is to evaluate whether it would be a VM candidate or not," Welsh said.

Welsh looks forward to Quest building more VirtualCenter-like capability into Foglight.

"One nice thing with Foglight is you can have visibility into multiple VirtualCenters," he said. "Obviously with two physical data centers [at BECU] we will have multiple VirtualCenters. If you could get to and from a single pane and take all actions from a browser, I don't want to use the word 'utopia,' but that would be getting close."

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