Application Management in a Software-Defined Datacenter

In a recent blog by my colleague Kit Colbert, he outlined a number of implications that a transition from traditional systems to a cloud environment have on management. Traditionally dedicated infrastructure tied to specific applications lead to tightly integrated vertical silos and significant complexity in management tooling. With the move to software-defined datacenters these silos are turned on their side, applications are “unlocked” from their dedicated infrastructure and an opportunity to reap significant operational benefits is created.

Application management products have traditionally been segregated by management disciplines, and for the most part have evolved from the infrastructure management domain. They tend to be complex and have lengthy deployment cycles. This is partly due to the view that an elaborate dependency map of various components must be created across the entire vertical resulting in a “desktop to disk” type exercise. But as these silos disappear, application teams do not need to know the intimate details of the infrastructure that their applications are running on. Infrastructure is provided to applications as a virtual data center (VDC) with a service level agreement.

VMware believes management tools and processes must focus on infrastructure and applications as distinct horizontal layers, with just enough information being exchanged between the layers for key decision making to happen. A few examples of such decisions, from the application layer’s perspective, are determining the availability of the infrastructure (a virtual data center) and also being able to request a particular infrastructure security policy (a specific vShield Edge configuration).

Business agility necessitates embracing rapid change, and this is very relevant at the application layer. Not only is the number of applications in a software-defined datacenter growing, but this growth is accompanied by frequent changes being applied to the applications. As a result, the application teams need management tools to help them stay ahead of this change.

Earlier this year, Steve Herrod welcomed vFabric Application Director to the VMware portfolio. It’s a product designed to offer customers a new approach to provisioning and managing applications, while also offering IT numerous operational benefits. At today’s VMworld Europe keynote, Steve spoke about the launch of the next major release of vFabric Application Director and how it’s helping our customers solve their application management issues.

Very simply stated, VMware’s application management strategy is to provide management tooling that lets IT’s application teams provision and manage applications efficiently in a software-defined datacenter. Our focus is on the application lifecycle, providing both developer agility and IT control while enabling rapid change. All this with an emphasis on simplicity. Our application management portfolio consists of vFabric Application Director, vFabric AppInsight and vFabric Hyperic.

I’ll start out by taking you on a quick tour of vFabric Application Director. We designed the product with a focus on application teams within IT, these teams require management tools that allow them to effectively manage application growth and rapid change while taking advantage of the separation of infrastructure and application layers. At the core of Application Director is the concept of blueprints (Bp), these are logical models for an application that drive the full lifecycle management functionality. A blueprint is typically created by an application architect, and the Bp defines the various components of the application (logical templates, services, application components) as well as their dependencies. Application Director provides a drag and drop interface to enable rapid creation of the blueprint. The blueprint author can set various policies in this model. For instance, the author may decide that SSL is always required and can set this configuration as one that cannot be changed at deployment time. These policies allow IT controls to be automatically enforced as an application gets provisioned and updated.

The screenshot below shows the applications homepage. Each card represents an application, and admins can select and deploy (in a self-service way) within a few clicks. The “privileged” users can view and edit the blueprint, deployment profile and deployment environment!

Application Director can provision this logical blueprint into a deployment environment (De). A deployment environment is either a vSphere-based private or public cloud or AWS. The delegated management capabilities in Application Director allow self-service provisioning. The way this works is that an admin sets up the deployment environment by providing the details of the cloud endpoint and then grants permission to self-service users, who can subsequently manage the lifecycle of their applications within this deployment environment. At the time of provisioning a blueprint into a deployment environment, admins apply the final touches. For instance they map the logical templates to those provided in the cloud, and they can also override any configuration parameter that the blueprint author designates, such as the port for http traffic. This set of information can be saved in Application Director as a deployment profile (Dp). Since the configurations and settings that can be set at this stage of deployment are controlled by the blueprint, IT can be assured that policies are enforced as applications get deployed into multiple Cloud environments, whether it’s a vSphere-based private/public cloud or AWS.

The provisioned applications can be updated – and this is where Application Director automatically analyzes the change by leveraging the logical model in the blueprint to compute the impact and automate the entire change across all components of the application. Pretty powerful! You can read more about Application Director in today’s blog post by Kit Colbert.

Given VMware’s mission to simplify and automate IT management, we also brought together Application Director and vFabric AppInsight to allow seamless application lifecyle management across provisioning, monitoring and updates. vFabric AppInsight let’s the application teams monitor their applications running in a cloud (vSphere-based private or public or AWS). AppInsight’s monitoring agents are available as services for the blueprint author, and this allows the ability to automate the install of monitoring agents each time an application is provisioned. We also integrated the update capabilities in Application Director with the monitoring capabilities in AppInsight to automatically scale out an application when the performance degrades. And lastly, AppInsight can now import the topology of an application from Application Director. We’re excited about the compelling use cases that are enabled by integrating these two products and have more planned for subsequent releases.

Along with the new releases of vFabric Application Director and AppInsight, we are also launching the Cloud Application Management Marketplace where customers can download application management content (application services, blueprints, templates, monitoring plugins and more) shared by vendors and partners.

If you’re at VMworld Europe this week, stop by the VMware booth to learn more about our application management products, and how we’re helping our customers handle the increasing demands of managing business applications.