Understanding and Customizing VMware ESX Server Performance Charts

by [Published on 1 April 2009 / Last Updated on 1 April 2009]

A step by step overview of VMware’s VI Client and vCenter performance charts, how they work, what they offer you and how you can customize them.

Why do you need VMware Performance charts?

As a VMware Administrator you must know what is going on in your virtual infrastructure. When things are not going as planned, you need to troubleshoot it. Performance charts are key in being able to troubleshoot performance issues in your virtual infrastructure. Thus, you need performance charts to:

  • Have a informal baseline of what your utilization is today, in a visual form
  • Troubleshoot performance issues when you have performance issues
  • Optimize your virtual infrastructure performance to keep performance as good as it can be and to make the right decisions in the future

What do VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure Performance Charts offer you?

Whether you use VMware’s ESXi server only (just one server) or if you have the Enterprise Virtual Infrastructure Suite (with vCenter and 100 ESX Server), VMware’s Performance charts are available to you and offer you many features.

With the standalone ESXi edition you will only have charts at the host and guest level. On the other hand, with vCenter, you will have performance charts available at the cluster level (if you have created a VMHA or DRS cluster).

Depending on the level of the chart that you are using, you will be offered different information. For example, on a guest you can graph CPU, memory, disk, network, and system. On an ESX host, you will have those plus “management agent”. On a cluster, you will only see CPU and memory. Keep in mind that when I say “CPU” there are many CPU-related performance settings under CPU. For example you can access average CPU usage, CPU used, CPU guaranteed, CPU extra, CPU ready, CPU system, and CPU wait. Other performance categories such as memory, network, and disk will each have their own performance criteria that you can manually add to your graph.


Figure 1: Sample VMware ESX Performance Chart

By clicking Change Chart Options, charts can be created for real-time information, past day, week, month, year, or a custom timeframe. Here is what that window looks like:


Figure 2: Changing your VMware ESX Performance Chart Options

Custom charts can be saved so that you can pull them up quickly when needed. Charts can also be saved as graphics or printed. To give your chart more screen space, you can choose to have the chart “popup” on its own window (get it out of the VI client window). This is certainly something you want to do if you are going to look at a graph for more than a few seconds. Here is what a “popup” chart looks like:


Figure 3: VMware ESX PopUp Performance Chart

To me, the most important thing about using the standard VMware ESX Performance charts is 1) knowing what level to go to look for something (cluster, host, or guest) and 2) knowing what statistic to look for (CPU, memory, disk, network, or other).

Just like using any other troubleshooting tool, your success and efficient use of it comes from your experience in troubleshooting performance issues and your knowledge of your environment and applications. For example, where do you start? I would start on the cluster (if you have one), then to the ESX host, then to the guest that is causing trouble. At each of these levels, I would look at CPU, memory, disk, and network.

After using the standard performance charts for a while, it is likely that you will want to customize them pretty quickly to find out just what you need to know. Let us find out how to do that.

How do you customize VMware ESX Performance Charts?

As you saw in Figure 2, above, it is easy to customize your performance charts and even save those customizations. Let me give you an example. Say that I wanted to create a custom chart for my ESX host (and even a group of ESX hosts) that shows CPU performance for the last month. To do this, I would go to the ESX server in the VI client and click on the Performance tab. From there, click on Change Chart Options. I would go to the CPU section and click on Past Month. To save your new chart, click on Save Chart Settings. Here is what it looks like:


Figure 4: Savings a VMware ESX Custom Performance Chart

By doing this, the next time you come into the performance chart, you can click Change Chart Options and load this saved chart by selecting it under Saved Chart Settings.


Figure 5: Loading a VMware ESX Saved Performance Chart

In fact, if you want this saved chart to load every time you bring up this graph, you can check the checkbox that says Always Load these Settings at Startup.

So as you found out, customizing VMware ESX Performance charts is easy but what if the VI Client and vCenter just don’t offer you enough performance information.

How do you get more VMware ESX Performance information?

If you need more performance information and more intelligent performance solutions, I can make a few recommendations:

  1. vKernel – specializing in performance appliances for VMware. When it comes to VMware performance, the most useful tool, in my opinion, is vKernel’s performance modeling tool, Modeler. With Modeler, you can find out all the “what if” answers to the performance questions, before you make performance changes. Read about it in an article by Gabrie Van Zanten at How to Model and Predict Changes to your VMware ESX Infrastructure using vKernel Modeler
  2. Veeam Monitor – recently announced in a free edition, Veeam Monitor is a powerful performance monitoring application. Read about it in my article The benefits of VMware ESX performance monitoring with Veeam Monitor free edition
  3. Solarwinds VM Monitor – I wrote an article about this free tool that uses SNMP to give you a quick dashboard view of your ESX Server and guest VM performance. Note: only works with ESX Server, not ESXi.
  4. Akorri BalancePoint – a comprehensive performance management application that even interfaces with your storage area network (SAN)

Conclusion

In conclusion, VMware ESX performance charts are very powerful but also are limited to their core functionality. With the built-in performance charts you can view VMware ESX host, guest, and cluster performance, create & save custom charts, and view performance on so many different performance objects. I hope you will spend a little more time using VMware ESX Performance Charts with the help of this article.

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