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5 vCenter features you should know about

VMware vCenter is the pre-eminent vSphere management tool. Get to know some of vCenter's lesser-known features to make this tool even more effective in your data center.

VMware vCenter has a well-deserved pedigree for vital tasks such as resource provisioning and allocation, performance monitoring, workflow automation, and user privilege management. However, vCenter has other features that many overlook or underutilize.

Take a second look at some lesser-known vCenter features -- and perhaps wring even more value from this venerable tool.

VMware vCenter maps

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and vCenter offers visual representations of virtualized environments with its vCenter maps tool. The maps tool can illustrate relationships between the resources available to vCenter Server. You can illustrate any vSphere client connected to vCenter with a map. vCenter maps highlight the relationships between VM resources, host systems, data stores and vMotion hosts.

The details that vCenter maps provide can help IT administrators understand the behavior of their virtualized environments at a glance. For example, maps can show heavily loaded clusters or hosts, expose network segments critical to the LAN, and display storage utilization. Admins can then use those broad insights to rebalance workloads, justify changes and upgrades to the infrastructure, and keep the virtualized environment running at peak efficiency.

VMware vCenter users can increase or decrease the scope of a map. Reviewing a selected inventory item's map will only show the resources or relationships of that item. Users can also customize map views by zooming in or out and adding or removing objects from both inventory and map relationships. Thus, admins can get as much or as little detail as desired.

Admins can also export maps to image files, enabling them to share the maps with IT managers and staff without necessarily sharing access to vCenter.

vCenter Server
The three functions of a vCenter Server

Tasks and events

Management tools are more efficient and effective when they can implement tasks and respond to events taking place in an infrastructure. VMware vCenter supports tasks and events in the vSphere environment. Using tasks and events -- and keeping those features up to date -- can play an important role in data center automation.

Tasks are scheduled -- often recurring -- system activities such as VM migrations or powering off a VM at a certain time. Although admins can manually perform such tasks on demand, they can also view tasks, cancel tasks and schedule tasks for one-off or recurring operation with vSphere.

Triggering alarms and locating key events are vital aids when troubleshooting and running root cause analysis in a virtualized infrastructure.

Scheduled tasks include adding hosts, creating VMs, deploying VMs, snapshotting VMs, looking for and deploying updates, changing the power state of a VM, and changing the VM resource settings. All of these tasks adhere to a set of policy rules that admins can't change.

Events are discrete actions that take place on vSphere hosts in the environment, and they include a wide array of both user and system actions. For example, an event occurs when a user logs into a system, when the system starts and completes tasks, or when host connectivity is lost. All events generate a detailed message, and vCenter logs the messages for later review and analysis.

Admins can view, filter, search and even export events for external review and analysis. Although admins don't have direct control over events, they can use events to trigger alarms, which are notifications the system generates when a certain event occurs. Triggering alarms and locating key events are vital aids when troubleshooting and running root cause analysis in a virtualized infrastructure.

Manage inventory and attributes

VMware vCenter manages a comprehensive infrastructure comprised of vSphere virtual objects. Admins create and organize the inventory to optimize the ways the system uses VMs and the underlying resources.

For example, admins can populate and organize inventories with a range of important tasks. At a basic level, admins can create resource pools, folders and data stores and add host systems. At a more advanced level, admins can create more advanced virtual objects, including clusters, networks across hosts or data centers, and even entire data centers. Admins must review the inventory periodically, update objects and check the relationships between objects to make sure they reflect the current state of the infrastructure.

Admins often organize objects using attributes. Attributes are labels that admins can apply to VMs and host systems. Admins can create, add, edit and remove attributes as desired. When an admin defines an attribute for an object, it's available for all the objects of that same type, but it can only be applied to select objects. Once the attributes are applied, admins can filter against them to find groups of objects that share common attributes.

Check vCenter components

The vCenter platform contains a suite of separate components. While several of the components are installed along with vCenter by default, admins might need to install some components separately. It's always worth checking your installed components to evaluate and add or remove them as necessary.

Common component options include vMotion to move running VMs between ESXi hosts, Storage vMotion to move disks and configuration files between data stores, vSphere High Availability (HA) to support high-availability VM clustering, vSphere Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) for enhanced resource and power use across hosts, Storage DRS to manage multiple data stores as a single cluster, and vSphere Fault Tolerance for duplicate VMs.

If an admin didn't need clustering in the environment when he initially installed vCenter, for example, chances are that the vSphere HA component wasn't installed at that time. However, if the business recognizes the need for enhanced availability on some mission-critical workloads, it might be worth checking for vSphere HA and installing that component later.

Optional components typically involve additional licensing and licensing costs. Conversely, if a review of the components reveals a present but unused component, it might be appropriate to uninstall it to simplify the environment and save on licensing costs.

Manage vCenter plugins

Admins typically enhance platforms such as vCenter using plugins to provide more features and functions that are not available in the base product. VMware vCenter commonly installs several plugins by default, such as vCenter Storage Monitoring to track storage use and vCenter Hardware Status to monitor and report on the status of host hardware.

Other plugins available for vCenter include vSphere Update Manager, which enables update and patch management across hosts and VMs; vCenter Orchestrator, which automates workflows across the virtualized environment; and vShield Zones, which provides a firewall for VMs.

Plugins may appeal to admins because third-parties develop and deploy many such plugins -- often to support specialized hardware or software -- which effectively enables organizations to tailor vCenter to their specific infrastructure or business needs. Vendors such as IBM, Dell, Fujitsu and HPE offer many vCenter plugins.

Admins manage plugins with vCenter's Plugin Manager. Admins can view installed and available plugins, download and install plugins, and enable or disable them. Generally, the OS treats plugins as applications and admins should remove them via the OS, such as the Windows Control Panel. You should review your installed plugins periodically, disable or remove any unneeded plugins, and update plugins when later versions become available.

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