For years now, VMware has extended its focus from hypervisor or platform provider to management player, and it didn’t take the company long to realize the next phase of revenue would come from management tools. VMware currently offers several virtualization management applications for sale, including software to manage chargeback, capacity planning, configuration, orchestration, and even business continuity.

But VMware also provides a number of free tools. In addition to well-established and supported freebies such as VMware Server, Player, and vCenter Converter, the company has established VMware Labs, a division dedicated to creating free community-driven tools. The free tools from the lab, as you might recall, are called “flings.”

Back in December, InfoWorld talked about two VMware Labs flings worth downloading: I/O Analyzer and ESX System Analyzer. If it’s a battle to find information about your virtual environment, these two flings should be a part of your overall war strategy. Building on that strategy, VMware Labs has issued yet another free fling ready for the downloading. This latest valuable tool is called vBenchmark.

VMware vBenchmark will analyze your VMware virtual environment and in return provide you with a clean-looking, informative dashboard. It measures performance across three broad categories: efficiency, operational agility, and quality of service. For example, it can:

  • Measure resource consumption and show you how much physical RAM you save by using virtualization
  • Show you the average amount of time it takes you to provision a new VM
  • Report how much downtime was avoided by using VMware high-availability features

These are all quantifiable benefits of server virtualization that an administrator can use to report back to management as part of an ongoing private cloud justification project.

The package is easily delivered as an Open Virtualization Format (OVF) virtual appliance that, once set up, can retrieve metrics across one or more vCenter servers. It can also be configured to include or exclude specific hosts at the cluster level. The vBenchmark queries can be saved and compared over time to measure the changes that occur in the environment as it grows.

These features make vBenchmark a useful tool in any VMware environment.I f you don’t already own a capacity-planning tool like one of those offered for sale by VMware or a third-party provider such as VKernel, Quest Software, SolarWinds, or Veeam, then this free fling makes even more sense to add into your virtualization toolkit.

Beyond these features, what really makes this particular fling that much more interesting is its community aspect. Ever wondered how your environment stacks up to someone else’s? It’s pretty hard to imagine, but now you can find out. Because in addition to providing you with results about your own environment, vBenchmark also allows users to contribute their metrics to a community repository where they can then compare those metrics against other companies in their peer group, as defined by geographic region, industry, or company size.

VMware says the data you submit to this community site is anonymized and encrypted for secure transmission. However, secure or not, a couple of vBenchmark fling users have already expressed concerns over the tool transmitting “host keys” so that VMware can identify which version of vSphere is being reported on. These concerned users do not want to submit their keys into the public data exchange, but are willing to participate with uploading their aggregate data once the uploading of the keys are removed.

This security concern may hinder the fling’s usefulness if VMware isn’t careful. Right now, the community aspect is an interesting component of the tool. Without community involvement and data to share, it will never move the needle from “interesting” to “useful.”

Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time that a virtualization company tried to offer the benefits of community data aggregation in the hopes of showing administrators how their environment compares to that of their peers. VKernel was first on the scene in 2008 with the launch, a free community Website tool that allowed visitors to exchange and compare VMware ESX Server virtual machine resource allocations with that of the community at large. Visitors could compare by application categories and see how their peers were allocating resources to gain the most efficiency out of their environments. In spite of achieving what appears to be 665 records of information, the community website may have been abandoned by VKernel. After a quick search of the company’s website for reference to this asset, no links could be found and there were no mentions of the site after 2009.

VMware is and has been very involved with building a solid community around its technology. I’d go so far as to say it has been the best at doing so within the technologies I’ve personally used. If it can either fix or remove the concerns around the security issue, vBenchmark may quickly become a VMware community fan favorite.

– In Virtualization Report by David Marshall