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Do I really want to script my application availability in today’s virtual world?

It’s that time of year again; my car needs a service to ready it for the coming winter. It’s only August and around 25°C here in the UK.  It’s amazing how quick the weather turns these days; on comes the wind and the rain and before you know it there are signs for Halloween and Christmas in the shops.  So upon the topic of servicing the car,  I mentioned in passing this morning to my partner that I should book the car in for its service and her response was “Can’t you do that yourself and save some money?”. Of course I probably could. Thinking about it for that moment, but it’s much easier for someone who knows what they are doing to do this for me. I may of course save some money if I did it myself, but saving money doesn’t always mean saving me time. Also I’m sure she was thinking of spending the savings on a pair of shoes or something else and that’s one battle I would lose.

Let’s think about this task for a moment.  To service the car I would need a number of things:  a service manual, service replacement parts and of course some spare time, to think of a just a few. All of this would mean there would be some initial cost outlay.  I would also need time dedicated to this process and some level of knowledge on how cars work.

So what’s all this got to do with my virtualized applications? I hear you ask! Well, it’s actually fairly similar. It’s now very easy to provide availability for your applications in a virtual environment without the need to “do it yourself” with scripts or monitoring tools.  ApplicationHA from Symantec allows you to very easily configure and manage your enterprise applications with ease and for a very low cost per virtual machine I may add. A bit like a car servicing outlet, ApplicationHA does the work for you.  The application framework and wizards can have you on the next step of availability in minutes without any impact to your running applications and with very little application knowledge management.

Before ApplicationHA, I had seen system administrators using Windows Service Control Manager (SCM) and manually changing each application service to restart in case of a fault. While this seems like a simple thing to do at the time, it did raise complexity and add some operational time to a problem. The system administrator would need to know where all the services resided that belong to a particular application, and that’s not as easy as you may think. Then you have to think about each application on each system, well that is a lot of leg work if you have lots and lots of applications out there. What if the application is being service packed or what if the application gets upgraded? All this would have an effect on how this process works and how scalable it is not. So it surely would be easier to use the same tool for all your applications and manage them directly from the vSphere Client interface which you use on a daily basis.

ApplicationHA came about with the Application Awareness API which VMware added to vSphere 4.1. With vSphere 5.0 the API allows anyone that wishes to use it to provide a “do it yourself” approach to application monito... Think of the API like a service manual.  The API gives you the information you need to do the job yourself by way of scripting and interacting with your applications. You will of course need some knowledge of how your application works and how you can integrate it with the API.  This can be said for any type of monitoring tool, you still need to know what you’re doing and have some scripting skill to do it also.

ApplicationHA from Symantec uses this API for heartbeating to VMwareHA on the application health status.  Some of the exciting features of ApplicationHA are as follows.

  • Visibility and control of applications running inside virtual machines from vCenter console
  • Recovery coordinated with VMware HA
  • Fully supported with key VMware features such as vMotion, SRM, DRS, DPM, etc.
  • Easy installation. Just a few clicks to install across all of your virtual machines.
  • Application Support includes: SAP, Sharepoint 2010; SQL Server 2005, 2008, 2008 R2; Exchange 2007, 2010; Weblogic 9, 10, Oracle 10R2, 11R2; Custom Applications & more
  • Guest platform support includes: Win32, Winx64, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.x, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP1, and Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.x
  • Robust solution built from industry leading Veritas Cluster Server technology

ApplicationHA has the ability to centrally deploy its application agents directly to all VMs including Windows or Linux in your Data Center along with integrated management and dashboard views inside the vSphere GUI.  Added to this, ApplicationHA also interacts with Site Recovery Manager from VMware to provide application health status and reporting with your DR solution.  It really provides a gold standard service for your applications.

So let’s just look beyond a general service of my car.  What about the other components such as suspension, electrics and heating? If any of these break down then they can have a bearing on other users on the road especially if the driver cannot indicate the direction he/she wishes to turn. Similarly with your Data Center - applications normally have some level of interaction with other systems be they virtual or physical. This is where ApplicationHA comes into its own with its ability to work with other virtualization solutions as well as integrating into Veritas Cluster Server environments being used for physical systems. It is possible to tie these applications together into lines of business entities with Veritas Operation Manager.  Additionally,  outages on certain systems can have an effect on other systems.  For example, a database going down on a physical system could require middle and upper tier systems restarting their applications once the database is back online; try doing that with scripts.

One of the new features coming later this year for ApplicationHA is the ability to call upon BackupExec to restore the last known good copy of the virtual machine in case the virtual machine cannot start due to OS or application corruption. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do that in real life?  Actually you can!  Think of BackupExec as the automobile club, like AA or AAA depending on your country.  You give them a call when you’re stuck and cannot move.  ApplicationHA with BackupExec will be exactly that as BackupExec will get you back on the road when your VM has broken down and is not moving.  

It’s nice to look under the hood now and again to see how things work and maybe have a tinker but in the end do you really want to be spending the weekend servicing your car and getting dirty when you could be out taking a drive in the country side maybe having lunch at a riverside restaurant.