Published on February 5th, 2014 | by Brian Suhr1
Summary: Interesting use of Big Data type analytics mashed up with reports that VMware admins need.
If you spend a good amount of time “Keeping the Lights on” in your VMware environment then having access to intelligent reports is necessary. There are many things to monitor and report on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in most data centers. You as an admin or manager are looking for answers to feed details into projects and purchasing decisions. In the past there have not been a consistently good way to get these details, you would use different tools or scripts. All of which took a lot of time and frustration.
Who doesn’t love the idea of science with a dash of clouds for good measure? The fine people at CloudPhysics have an interesting concept in their product. At it’s core, CloudPhysics is a virtual appliance that is deployed in a pairing of 1 per vCenter. This appliance is referred to as the Observer and is what is used to gather the metrics that CloudPhysics uses to analyze the virtual environment. These metrics are tallied and evaluated using a “deck of cards”. Certainly not like a gypsy fortune teller though! These are metrics and data that are gathered as a part of the constant assessment the virtual appliance is doing through vCenter.
The Good and the Bad
The follow descriptions are items that our rating was based on. These are important values to the review team in the evaluation of products and their on going usage. Each item is described on what items affected the rating in a positive or negative fashion.
Ease of Use: We gave a 5 star rating for ease of use because its just that easy to use. It only takes a few minutes to figure out how to run the tools and only a few more to master the options.
Cost: We thought that the costs depending on the version you choose are pretty affordable. The tool adds enough value to justify the expense and when you compare it to other tools that likely cost as much per VM as CloudPhysics charges per month the value should be clear.
Reports: The rating of 4 stars for reporting was based on the number of reports you can create and how easy they are to create yourself.
Documentation: There is essentially very little documentation for the offering. This is both good that its so easy to use but we still like to see things documented for customers. There is a PDF for installing the observer but that is all that I found.
Innovation: We give CloudPhysics 5 stars on their innovation. This is because they are collecting and presenting data in a way that no other companies have done yet. The ability to allow users to create cards on the fly is great. They are also analyzing all of the data collection to find trends and offer you suggestions for actions.
Flexibility: The rating of 3.5 stars was based on how flexible the product is with different platforms. Today the CloudPhysics platform can only communicate with VMware vCenter. In the future it looks like they will be adding Hyper-V and OpenStack support. This will help the rating rise, we also think that if there was a way they could collect stats from hardware would be a huge win.
CloudPhysics Licensing Cost
CloudPhysics offers their product as a service that can be billed on a monthly or yearly basis. This is because they are offering the product as a service, better known as Software as a Service (SaaS). With this method customers can access the software and receive updates as soon as they are released. There are currently three levels of the platform available, they are listed below with a chart afterwards showing the feature comparison. You can review their published pricing here.
- The Enterprise Edition of CloudPhysics offers every feature available on the platform today. In this edition there are several advanced feature cards that allow you to explore what-if scenarios. You can also save unlimited number of your own cards that you build. The price is $189 on month-to-month or $149 per month with yearly commitment.
- The Standard Edition is a good value that offers a majority of the features and the ability to save 20 of your own cards. It only lacks a few of the advanced features that larger Enterprises would look to leverage. The price is $89 on month-to-month or $49 per month with yearly commitment.
- The Community (Free) Edition is a great value for people looking to test the software offering for more than the trial period. Also great for small shops that cannot justify the cost or we use it in the Zombie lab for reporting.
The management console for CloudPhysics is clean and easy to understand. Its based on cards which are shown in a deck layout and display details to the user. A sample of the image is shown below.
Deck: This section is the main view from the management portal. From this view you see all the default cards and any that you added to your deck view. The deck shows you the list of cards each reporting details about their defined report behind the card. An example might be a storage based card that is showing the average datastore latency. With each card if you click on the card you will be taken to the full detail report for the card that will show you complete details.
Card Builder: This section allows you to build custom cards which generate reports. These reports will pull information for your environment and show you in easy to consume views. This process is covered in detail in a later section.
Card Store: The card store is a place that users can go to add cards to their deck that were created by others. A good place to find cards that will report on details that you are looking for. The card store is covered in more detail in a later section.
The image below shows the primary view for CloudPhysics platform looking at the Deck view. This view gives you the high level view of what is going on in your vCenter environment. Any warning or alert cards will be reflected in an orange or red color.
CloudPhysics Card Builder
One of the cooler features in the CloudPhysics offering is the card builder. This is essentially a report generating machine, that is as easy as dragging and dropping items to build your report. If you are not a PowerShell ninja as I am not. I often look to the community to try and find scripts that will produce the results that I need to report on. The issue with this is they often need to be modified because they don’t offer all the details you might need and what if you wanted the results exported as HTML or CSV file. This still requires you to know these skills or waste time learning them.
The good news is with the card builder feature there are hundreds of pre-defined objects that you can report on. The process to create a card is very simple, a sample is shown below. To create a new card you choose items from the properties column on the left side. Drag one or multiple of these properties to the display field that I have highlighted below.
If you want to further customize or narrow down the search you can use the filter section to make your result more fine grained. An example of this might be to enter a VM naming prefix that could narrow your search results.
So what does the report look like? I have shown the sample report in the image below. You can see that it has pulled a list of all the VMs managed in our vCenter and returned the results on whether Change Block Tracking (CBT) was enabled for them. I was able to create this report in about 2 minutes or less. I could have easily spent hours looking for and modifying or writing my own script to do this.
Once the report is already created I can use the search field to narrow down my results even further if needed. Maybe you want to search for a naming convention or just the false results. This would help you find the details that you care about and want to go off and correct.
In my mind the card builder feature of CloudPhysics might justify the cost alone. Having a good reporting tool that is sure to grow in features is needed by nearly every VMware customer.
CloudPhysics Card Store
The CloudPhysics card store is the place that you can go within the portal to look for additional cards for reporting. These cards have been created by other users in your organization, by CloudPhysics for customers, by the community or by Vendors to offer support for their products.
This is a great way for you to find cards that might help you report on information that you might have not already known about or simply save yourself a few minutes. The store is already very large due to some contests that CloudPhysics ran during previous VMworlds to get the communities feedback on what information they would like from reports.
There are already over 100 cards available in the store and is sure to grow on a steady basis. The cards can also be rated by a star rating system and users can leave comments. These are helpful in determining how useful the card might be for you.
Knowledge is Power
I think someone smart or famous once said “Knowledge is Power”. This came to mind when I was working with the CloudPhysics product. One of the cards available is the Knowledge Base Advisor and is very powerful. This card uses the details collected from your environment and uses it to present Knowledge Base (KB) articles from the vendors in your environment.
It starts by presenting you all of the KB’s that it found that pertain to your vCenter environment. These are ranked in severity and presented to you with a color labeling. If you want to drill down further you can do that by the filters on the left side. Below are a few of the ways that you can filter the information by.
- Publisher (Hardware vendors)
- Hypervisor (vSphere version)
By having access to the KB articles that pertain to your environment without having to go off searching randomly on vendor sites is pretty nice. This could be used for many reasons, one of which comes to mind is researching on whether you need to update a particular firmware version or not. How might this affect things in a positive or negative way.
Something else that CloudPhysics can offer customers is the ability to validate decisions. There are a few options that you can look at how changes might affect your data center or virtual environment. These might be helpful in determining how a pending purchase might affect capacity or how a settings change might affect availability.
Also available is the Cloud Calculator feature, this allows you to estimate the cost of your entire inventory or a subset. You can estimate the cost to run in the Amazon public cloud or VMware vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS). The calculator is very easy to use like other features and can truly be an eye opening event on what the cloud might cost for you.
Now I caution you to do your homework and not just close the book on public cloud based on these values. There are many other things to consider and a manual comparison should be done after you get real pricing from the vendors. For the sake of this review we pulled a sample cost for vCHS for the 100+ virtual servers in the lab.
I was able to use a few of the features offered in the Enterprise licensing level and have broken them down below. Currently there are four Enterprise features, I was able to test out two of them.
Thin Provisioning Advisor
The Thin provisioning advisor is pretty much what you would expect from the name. It can report on all your VMs or a subset that can be sorted by vCenter, datastore or operating system. For the sake of our sample here I sorted the list down to just VMs with 2008R2 as the OS.
The report displays the VM list with virtual disk counts and lists capacity by provisioned, used space and free space. Each line also gives an estimate of the potential space that could be saved for each VM if it was converted to thin disks. I’m not usually a big fan of run thin disks on the vSphere side but if you like this function or need to use it, this report would help with the decision making.
The HA Simulation card is a great way to look at what-if scenarios for tweaking your HA settinsg on a cluster. The card is very simple to use, just select the cluster you want to look at changing. You will see the current settings and from the Simulate New Policy drop down you can choose a different HA method or adjust the calculations on the current policy.
So what does this do for me? Well a simple answer would be to find out what the implications might be if change from a default setting of allow a single host failure to a percentage based HA setting. This will allow you to model your estimated percentages that you worked up, this can all be done without changing your working cluster.
In a last minute addition CloudPhysics just announced before we published this review that they have now added performance reporting to the product. The report feature is adding new properties to the card builder feature that will display performance stats. The stats can display up to 30 days of historical information at this time. The performance reports can be reduced to a 20 second granularity. There are over 100 performance related data counters added for these new reports.
I think the coolest part of this is the ability to use both the normal reporting data points and the new performance data points on a single report. This would aid customers in finding root cause of a performance related issue. I’ve listed a couple of examples below of what is possible.
- Compare host CPU usage with the CPU ready time for all VMs on the host
- Compare VM network performance to NIC utilization and network configuration
The ability to report on performance is a big deal for CloudPhysics. I don’t expect this to compete immediately with the likes of other performance specific tools, but seems to be a nice mesh with their reporting features. This is the first attempt at performance reports, I will be watching closely to see how this matures.
I have included a demo video from CloudPhysics that steps through the performance reporting process.
The Wrap up
Its been about 18 months since I first saw CloudPhysics and I have to say that I’m impressed with their progress. The platform is maturing nicely and the future should be exciting for them. If you have used the product already or want to drop us details in the comments.