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Third-party server virtualization management vs. platform vendors' tools

For server virtualization management tools, should you go with virtualization management software from VMware and Microsoft or third-party management? Our Advisory Board weighs in.

Server virtualization management tools are essential for any organization, but they present a major question for systems administrators: Should you go with server virtualization management software from VMware, Microsoft and other platform vendors, or is third-party management a better option?

The issue is also having a significant effect on the market. As VMware offers more server virtualization management tools itself, the company has alienated some of its third-party management partners.

This month, the Server Virtualization Advisory Board tackles the issue by answering this question:

What are the pros and cons of using a full set of server virtualization management tools from one vendor vs. using third-party tools from various vendors?

Jack Kaiser, GreenPages Technology Solutions

GreenPages recommends third party tools because they act as an independent auditor of the environment and usually cover more than just the vendor-specific platform. Ideally, a management application provides cross-domain analysis into multiple elements of the environment so that it can highlight the true root causes of problems or areas that need improvement. Further, it provides the needed consistency for comparing and analyzing multiple platforms and products.

In defense of vendor tools, they can go deeper into their specific platforms. However, most vendors' claims that their tools are open, broad and interoperable with competing infrastructures are not fully accurate.

At GreenPages, we believe in buying best-of-breed products for a customers' infrastructure, from the platform to the supporting management applications. For virtualization, organizations should find products that see the virtual servers, physical servers and storage arrays and correlate the associated I/O between the layers for true performance management and capacity optimization.

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

I am one to dance with the lady that brought me to the party. Using management technologies from the platform vendor has seemed to be less risky and has given me the best level of support. With the platform vendor can't point its finger at a third-party product, it is more likely to roll up its sleeves to fix the problem. Plus, who knows the technology better than the company that created it?

That said, third-party vendors have some very compelling technologies which enhance or fill holes in the platform vendors' products. Melio FS, for example, filled the Clustered Shared Volume hole in Hyper-V that Microsoft did not address until recently. Call me conservative, but in my environment I get paid for stability and quick resolutions to problems. There may be some eye-catching dancers on the floor, but the stability and support of the lady that brought me to the party has been comforting when trying new moves.

CJ Metz, Orange County United Way

Tools from platform vendors are great to start with, as they will normally address all of the "out-of-the-bag" things you may need to accomplish. On the downside, getting the vendor to adopt new ideas or changes is not normally as rapid as with a third party.

This is where the third party really flourishes, in the development of new, innovative ways of managing and administrating. The third-party vendor's whole business is based on creating a better, faster and more innovative product than the one provided by the platform vendor.

Every company is going to have different requirements, which will require different toolsets. My advice would be to not back yourself into any corner, and ensure you do the proper research up front before locking yourself into an expensive set of tools.

Eric Siebert, Boston Market

I'm a big fan of using the best ISV tools for each area instead of using one vendor's products for all areas. This gives you the advantage of using the best possible products in your environment, but there is sometimes difficulty with the interoperability of products from different vendors. Support can also be an issue, as one vendor may point the finger at another vendor when troubleshooting problems, which can cause difficulty when trying to resolve them.

Many platform vendor tools are basic in nature and lack the robustness and advanced features that ISVs put into their products. ISV tools tend to be updated more frequently, as the ISVs are focused solely on their tools and not the platform itself. But a downside is that they tend to cost more than platform vendor tools that are often times bundled for free with their products. However, this is the price you pay to have the best tools in your virtual environment.

Shannon Snowden, New Age Technologies

I remember going into companies and having to first discover what protocol(s) they were using to communicate between machines: IPX/SPX, TCP/IP, NetBEUI or something else. Early in the client-server networking evolution, vendors said companies needed to only use their protocols for the best experience. The vendors were probably right, because interoperability wasn't really developed then.

However, the market didn't ultimately accept vendor lock-in.The bigger idea of connecting machines to a networked global mesh forced the vendors to relinquish propriety for standardization of the underlying protocols to actually bring the Internet to life.

Today, vendors are presenting the ideal state of ubiquitous computing, called the cloud. At this point, going with one vendor for the full stack of services may be good for the short-term integration benefits, but it's probably an interim step towards the standardization that will bring the cloud promise to fruition.

Dave Sobel, Evolve Technologies

Third party vendors have long proven they deliver exceptional value by finding opportunity in the market space and filling it. This usually results in rich feature sets and advanced functionality. By adding third parties, however, you lose the "single pane of glass" to manage, and you introduce complexity in both support and management.

Using a single vendor reduces complexity and management, but often results in a lesser feature set. When platform vendors build a community by encouraging ISVs and supporting third parties, it results in a very rich product set across the platform. Utlimately, the goal is a complete solution for the customer, and ensuring that it not only solves the customer's issue, but is maintainable and useful moving forward.

Rick Vanover, virtualization expert

For organizations that have well-refined infrastructure fundamentals across the board, there can be a lot of pros to using management solutions like the Hewlett-Packard BladeSystem Matrix. When organizations have consistent usage of platforms and specific models within a virtualized infrastructure, the management tools come easy.

On the other side, these tools will fall short in less-than-optimal environments, including: organizations dealing with a large number or smaller datacenters versus fewer, larger facilities; environments with a mix of platforms and equipment due to acquisitions or vendor changes mid-stream; or organizations that have a low comfort level with virtualization. In these situations, other management solutions may make more sense. Virtualization enables IT to manage itself better, but the fundamentals still need to be made right by the infrastructure staff.

Have an idea for a future Server Virtualization Advisory Board question? Email Colin Steele, Site Editor.

This was last published in September 2009

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