What’s New: OnCommand Balance v4.0

A new version of OnCommand Balance is now available.  For anyone unfamiliar with Balance, it is an analytics-based IT performance management software solution to optimize performance and utilization of virtual machines, physical servers and storage resources.  IT organizations use Balance to quickly isolate performance problems, reduce infrastructure costs and predict issues before they become problems.   Many of our customers call it the “CYA” product because it detects problems that could be career limiting.




Balance is agentless and available as a virtual appliance for easy installation and maintenance.  It provides multi-vendor, heterogeneous support for hypervisors (VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V), operating systems, and storage.  It supports all of the major storage vendors including NetApp, Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, and IBM.




The theme of this version of Balance is Performance Assurance for Virtualized Data Centers.   IT organizations are taking the leap to virtualize business-critical applications such as Microsoft applications, Oracle or SAP.  Balance v4.0 enhances its capabilities so IT shops have the confidence to roll out virtualized Tier 1 applications.



Major new capabilities include:

·         Redesigned dashboard tells you “what you need-to-know now”

·         Improved analysis

·         Increased scalability and simplified installation and configuration





Redesigned Dashboard: “what you need-to-know now”
The biggest change in this version is the new home page when you launch the product.  When we talked to customers about how they were using the product, we found that they were basically going to the summary pages more than the dashboard, so to make the information easier to access, we redesigned the dashboard to bubble up the summary panels that are deeper in the product to the top.  There are two key things to point out:
• The most important information the administrator needs to know is front and center
• Performance Index is now the primary indicator of whether a server has issues or not


Performance Index

For those that aren’t familiar with it, Performance Index is a Balance analytic that scores the balance between application requirements and the infrastructure’s ability to deliver from a host server perspective.  Performance Index tells you whether a host is underutilized, overburdened, or optimized. Balance calculates a host's Performance Index value by analyzing the metrics of the elements that affect a host's performance: CPU, Memory, and Storage. 



All three of these resources are critical components in the data processing path. After all, data has to pass from the CPU, to Memory, to Storage and back before an application can do anything with it.  Using Balance’s proprietary queuing network model, Balance crunches performance information for each of these resources to derive the host's Performance Index. When you place another workload on a host, that host's performance degrades by some amount.  Balance calculates the point at which the performance cost of adding an additional workload exceeds the benefit of the work it performs.  Balance assigns a value of 100 to that point; the point of near-perfect efficiency. That value is the "Optimal Point"; the basis for the Performance Index.  Once you know the point of optimization, resource optimization decisions are easier to make.





Monitored Environment Summary
The monitored environment summary provides a list of what Balance is monitoring including physical servers, guests, operating systems, virtual machines, virtual hosts, storage arrays, SAN switches, and databases.  Before v4.0, you’d have to go to multiple places to find this information.  It is now summarized on the right-hand side of the dashboard.

Storage in Trouble: Resolve Storage Performance Problems
Taking a closer look at each section in the dashboard, at the top is the Storage section.  This section highlights storage in trouble.  Taking a look at the example below, you can see that there were two storage events in the last 72 hours.

VMs in Trouble:  Resolve VM Performance Issues
This section of the dashboard highlights VMs in trouble.   The spark charts highlight the last 6 weeks and last 72 hours.  It will tell you if you’ve already been in this state or not.  It will tell you what happened and what the problem is.  The top five issues will be shown.  In this example, you can quickly tell that CPU is the problem and Memory and Storage are OK.  Now that you know in which area the problem is, you can drill down to the details.  Maybe it needs to be moved to a different host.  Maybe it has a limit that’s been set on it somehow.  If you see a server that’s always giving you trouble, but you know it’s really not an issue, you can actually “Hide it.”  You can also unhide it if you click on the “hidden” link.

Virtual Hosts in Trouble:  Predict & Resolve Virtual Host Issues
This section of the dashboard highlights virtual hosts in trouble.  The ESX hosts are shown in a similar fashion to the VMs in trouble.  The top five issues will be shown.  In this example, we only have four and we really haven’t found any major issues.  There are no indicators in the CPU, Memory, and Storage columns.  If you’re looking at a cluster, maybe you have unbalanced hosts, or one host is much busier than the other, you can go look and see if you need to load balance.  Maybe DRS is doing funny things to your infrastructure.  Balance’s ability to monitor virtual hosts and physical servers is important.  Many of the virtualization management solutions on the market don’t have that capability out of the box or it requires adapters.  So this is a nice feature if there are applications that you don’t plan to virtualize and you want to monitor your entire infrastructure with one solution. 

Improved Analysis
The new Server Summary tab shows all of the server performance information in one place, including Performance Index.  Having this information available up front gives you an overview of server performance on a single page. The breakout for VM levels statistics are also available from this page.

Balance v4.0 adds Qtree support for NetApp FAS systems.  NetApp customers use Qtrees for managing quotas, projects and replication. Qtrees are now shown in the Balance topology view.  It discovers how a qtree is exported from the filer.  Balance also provides better workload analysis for NetApp including a better breakdown of unaccounted workloads for volumes, aggregates, and protocols. 





Identify Misaligned LUNs and VMDK Partitions


File system misalignment is a known issue in virtual environments and can cause performance issues for virtual machines (VMs), linux and windows physical machines.  Balance can show which VMs are impacted most by misalignment. Not only does this solution identify the affected disk partitions, it also provides a ranking of those most impacted.



By clicking the link for the report on the Servers tab, the Misaligned LUNS report shows if the misaligned LUNs are impacting performance. This enables you to create a prioritized list of VMs for correction based on biggest payoff for the downtime that the conversion process will generate. Of course Balance can also be used to document the performance improvement that the downtime investment provided. The administrator may also decide that some VMs don't have a performance profile that makes this mitigation worthwhile. Either way,armed with the facts, you can make the right decision given the available downtime window.

Simplified & Quicker Installation and Configuration

In Balance 4.0 there is now a downloadable .ovf package that does not need to be run through VMware converter.  VMware tools are pre-installed to reduce installation time and effort.  The Installation and Configuration guides were overhauled to make them easier to follow.  In addition, there are video on demand Configuration and Installation videos to assure a seamless install or upgrade in record time.  In addition, the new version includes architectural scale enhancements that increase the scalability 50% over the previous version. 



Did you Know?  Balance has a Plug-in for vCenter and is VMware Management Certified
This means you get deep end-to-end visibility and analytics right from vCenter and it has the VMware stamp of approval having been tested and validated to work with vSphere.


How it’s sold

Balance can be purchased with controller-based licensing as well as capacity-based licensing. The product has the same capabilities, whether it is sold by capacity or controller.  The difference is only in which storage products are supported. 





If you’d like more information or have a question about Balance, feel free to contact me.