Monitoring applications in a Virtual Environment

An article by esiebert7625 from Welcome to vSphere-land!

The focus on applications often gets lost in the shuffle when implementing virtualization which is unfortunate because if you look at any server environment its sole purpose is really to serve applications. No matter what hardware, hypervisor or operating system is used, ultimately it all comes down to being able to run applications that serve a specific function for the users in a server environment. When you think about it, without applications we wouldn’t even have a need for computing hardware, so it’s important to remember, it’s really all about the applications.

So with that I wanted to provide 5 tips for monitoring applications in a virtual environment that will help you ensure that your applications run smoothly once they are virtualized.

Tip 1 – Monitor all the layers

The computing stack consists of several different components all layered on top of each other. At the bottom is the physical hardware or bare metal as it is often referred to. On top of that you traditionally had the operating system like Microsoft Windows or Linux, but with virtualization you have a new layer that sits between the hardware and the operating system. The virtualization layer controls all access to physical hardware and the operating system layer is contained within virtual machines. Inside those virtual machines is the application layer where you install applications within the operating system. Finally you have the user layer that accesses the applications running on the virtual machines. Within each layer you have specific resource areas that need to be monitored both within and across layers. For example storage resources which are a typical bottleneck in virtual environments need storage management across layers so you get different perspectives from multiple viewpoints.

To have truly effective monitoring you need to monitor all the layers so you can get a perspective from each layer and also see the big picture interaction between layers. If you don’t monitor all the layers you are going to miss important events that are relevant at a particular layer. For example if you focus only on monitoring at the guest OS layer, how do you know your applications or performing as they should or that your hypervisor does not have a bottleneck. So don’t miss anything when you monitor your virtual environment, you should monitor the application stack from end to end all the way from the infrastructure to the applications and the users that rely on them.

Tip 2 – Pay attention to the user experience

So you monitor your applications for problems but that won’t necessarily tell you how well it’s performing from a user perspective. If you’re just looking at the application and you see it has plenty of memory and CPU resources and there are no error messages you might get a false sense of confidence that it is running OK. If you dig deeper you may uncover hidden problems, this is especially true with virtualized applications that run on shared infrastructure and multi-tier applications that span servers that rely on other servers to properly function.

The user experience is what the user experiences when using the application and is the best measure of how an application is performing. If there is a bottleneck somewhere between shared resources or in one tier of an application it’s going to negatively impact the user experience which is based on everything working smoothly. So it’s important to have a monitoring tool that can simulate a user accessing an application so you can monitor from that perspective. If you detect that the user experience has degraded many tools will help you pinpoint where the bottleneck or problem is occurring.

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