Virtualization management tools: The compact cars of IT

Most virtualization management tools look and feel the same these days, and IT pros are waiting to be wowed.

In the 1990s, compact cars began to take on a similar look, and it became very difficult to tell one manufacturer’s car from another’s. Lately, it feels like the same situation is developing with virtualization management tools.

At VMworld 2011, I saw a large number of virtualization management tools, and honestly, there wasn’t much differentiation. Dials resembling speedometers. Green/yellow/red status symbols. It was all fading into the background, with few distinguishing features that grabbed the spotlight.

I understand that the use of colors has become a universal standard for virtualization management tools. I do not expect much innovation there. If you know that you will be using the same colors as your competitors, however, that’s all the more reason to look for other ways to set your product apart visually. And it’s not just an aesthetics issue; very few products had significant, innovative features that set them apart.

That said, there are some virtualization management tools whose features stand out. SolarWinds Virtualization Manager, for example, utilizes application programming interfaces to take the data it collects and display it on third-party portals and other Web pages. The Xangati Management Dashboard Suite takes a unique approach to record-and-replay capabilities, allowing users to record the current state of a virtual machine (VM) and immediately attach it to a help-desk ticket. And VMware’s vCenter Operations Manager can learn the normal behavior of a server, which avoids overnight alerts when regular backups begin and breach standard CPU thresholds.

These “how did I ever live without this?” features are impressive, but there is still plenty of room for innovation when it comes to virtualization management tools -- and a real need for some vendor to step up and break the mold. As impressive as the above capabilities are, I am not sure that we have seen the “wow” feature yet. But what is that feature, which will really define a clear winner in this category?

Virtualization management tools should place a greater emphasis on managing those few physical hosts that inevitably linger in the data center. I would also like to see better integration with the hypervisor and underlying storage to make snapshot backups part of the record-and-replay function, not only recording the VM’s metrics but also preserving its state during an event. Maybe tools should even integrate with technologies such as VMware vShield to quarantine a server if certain conditions are detected.

Without clear feature differentiation, the market will choose a winner based on price and vendor reputation, and that’s a dangerous arena for vendors to compete in. As an architect and a technologist, I want winners and losers to be determined by innovation and business value. Someone needs to pull away from the pack and make that happen.

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