VMware’s new vCenter Operations has piqued beta users’ interest in the management tool’s self-learning analytics and visualization capabilities. But interest
Management needs to adapt to the new virtual world.
Ramin Sayar, VP of products, VMware Inc.
Announced today and previewed at VMware Inc.’s Partner Exchange last month, vCenter Operations uses time-series analytics to “learn” what’s normal for a virtual environment. The tool then automatically performs automated root-cause analysis without requiring user-set thresholds for alerts or templates for configuration management. Using intellectual property it acquired from Integrien, vCenter Operations also enlists visualization to report findings using “heat maps” of the infrastructure for quick -- and, ideally, proactive -- fixes to infrastructure problems.
“Management needs to adapt to the new virtual world,” said Ramin Sayar, VMware’s VP of products, who worked as the vice president of products for Hewlett-Packard Co.’s software and solutions group before joining VMware last year. “That’s something that’s been very difficult to do with traditional tools.”
While vCenter Operations and third-party monitoring tools overlap somewhat, Sayar said that VMware isn’t suggesting that users “rip and replace” currently installed tools, whether that means CapacityIQ or HP OpenView. And vCenter Operations doesn’t require additional software agents, performing data collection through existing software agents and collectors engineered into VMware’s vCenter product line over the past 18 months.
Two of three package options not included in beta
VCenter Operations will be packaged in three editions: Standard, which does performance analytics as described above, with a limit of one vCenter node and 500 virtual machines (VMs); Advanced, which bundles in VMware’s CapacityIQ capacity planning software and scales to unlimited number of VMs; and Enterprise, which does all of the above and adds connectors to third-party systems management suites, including OpenView, IBM Corp.’s Tivoli, Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) and EMC Corp.’s Smarts software.
The products will be delivered in the form of a vApp that snaps into existing vCenter consoles. Pricing for Standard Edition starts at $50 per VM. VMware has not publicly disclosed Advanced and Enterprise edition pricing, though Sayar said volume discounts will be available for qualified users.
But those open pricing and packaging questions could be a sticking point for shops with more than 500 VMs. Theoretically, they can use the legacy Alive Enterprise, renamed “vCenter Operations Enterprise Standalone,” but neither that product or the new vCenter Operations Enterprise edition were included as part of this beta program.
In praise of dynamic thresholds
Beta testers who have put the standard edition of vCenter Operations through its paces sing the praises of its features and say the product works as advertised.
Brian Alexander, a system architect at a large software company based in the Northwest with 50 data centers and more than 7,000 virtual machines, said the product has already helped him resolve “hot spots” on NetApp Inc. storage filers in a test environment under VMware’s Lab Manager.
“What impressed me so much were the dynamic thresholds,” Alexander said, referring to the fact that the tool learns the norm for an environment and thus won’t send out false-positive alerts during normal spikes in resource demand.
It can be tough to get across the concept that your return on investment is that nothing is breaking.
Josh Currier, network manager, Munters Corp.
Alexander said he also liked the “heat map” visualization of the tool’s findings. “It shows you the outliers; you don’t have to figure out what the average is.”
Another vCenter Operations beta tester, Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect at a large Midwestern university, said his systems admins have also “fallen in love” with the tool, and that it’s helped short-circuit “the IT blame game” between groups in his environment. Plankers said that at $50 per VM, the Standard edition he’s been given to beta test would be affordable for his 500-VM environment.
But he said he’d like to pull in the capacity planning and physical monitoring integration that is offered with the Advanced edition. “We’d like to do more capacity planning instead of reacting retroactively,” he said. But so far, his VMware reps have been “mum” on pricing for that edition, he said.
Alexander said the 500-VM scalability limit on vCenter Operations Standard means his organization will have to wait to sort out pricing and proof-of-concept testing for the Enterprise edition as well as for the vCenter Operations Enterprise Standalone product. “I have multiple environments [within my organization] too large to fit [within the 500-VM limit],” he said. However, with performance the key metric in his environment currently, Alexander said he’d prefer the option of a Standard edition that can scale beyond 500 VMs.
Through a spokesperson, VMware indicated this isn’t part of any current plans, saying “vCenter Operations Standard is designed for smaller vSphere deployments.”
VMware opens new competitive frontier, where cost can be a thorny issue
Pricing and packaging aside, proactive monitoring tools can be a tough sell, said Josh Currier, a network manager at the Amesbury, Mass.-based Munters Corp., a global manufacturing firm. Unlike virtualization, which offers a concrete return on investment, management tools are another matter. “We’d have to put a number value on risk management and time spent,” Currier said.“It can be tough to get across the concept that your return on investment is that nothing is breaking.”
Meanwhile, VMware is going up against incumbent tools in some users’ shops, including VKernel’s Capacity Analyzer, Quest Software’s vFoglight and Veeam Software Inc.’s Veeam Monitor, which may be more affordable than the more advanced editions of vCenter Operations. Tools from such third-party independent software vendors so far have been preferred by users in the absence of an offering like vCenter Operations from VMware.
On the other hand, according to Bernd Harzog analyst at The Virtualization Practice, there’s still plenty of “greenfield” opportunity for VMware in the market; through his research, he estimates that four out of every five VMware customers lack monitoring tools.
“This is a serious product,” Harzog said. “It’s been a long time coming for VMware to have a serious product in this space, and I think they’ve gotten it right.”
Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.