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Virtualization management tools: Navigating the muddy waters

Mark Vaughn

The phrases “one throat to choke” and “one hand to shake” are common in IT today, particularly in the debate about converged infrastructure products. But they’re also popping up more in discussions about virtualization management tools.

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Most organizations today have some combination of best-of-breed virtualization management tools, good-enough-for-the-price tools and I-have-to-use-it-because-it’s-free tools. All of these categories have their place in IT organization, but they can lead to complexity and real support nightmares. That leads some to call for a single, simple virtualization management solution, but this approach also has its downsides.

Platform vendors’ virtualization management tools
Virtualization platform vendors and third parties are all trying to address this issue. On the platform side, Microsoft has System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which can manage Hyper-V as well as some basic VMware tasks. And VMware recently released an experimental plug-in to manage Hyper-V virtual machines through vCenter.

But where is the incentive for VMware and Microsoft to provide virtualization management solutions that leverage their competitor’s advanced features? In supporting these features, you run the risk of highlighting your competitor’s advantages.

At the same time, collaboration in this scenario is tenuous at best. Without one vendor giving the other full access to future development efforts, they will always be struggling to keep up with new releases. Users will constantly have to decide between using multiple virtualization management tools or foregoing new features because of their centralized tool’s limitations.

Third-party virtualization management solutions
Meanwhile, third-party vendors such as Quest Software and VKernel are creating robust virtualization management tools that work with multiple hypervisors.

Because they don’t directly compete with the platform vendors, these companies often have more access to their development roadmaps. That helps third-party vendors stay up to date on new features, but it does not remove that hurdle altogether. Advancements in virtualization are moving at a blinding pace, and feature releases are so competitive, that release schedules and product roadmaps are ever-changing targets.

Choosing virtualization management tools
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to narrow down the options and select the right virtualization management solutions.

You can take a top-down approach: Select a virtualization management tool, then limit yourself to hypervisors and feature sets supported by that tool. This strategy can be messy, because you may end up managing to the lowest common denominator. But it may be necessary if your organization has a mix of hypervisors and other cross-platform tools, because this approach can support a more disparate infrastructure.

Virtualization management solutions created by the major hypervisor vendors probably aren’t a good fit for this approach. If you want to take full advantage of your existing virtualization investments, it may be better to choose a tool designed specifically for your platform. The hypervisor vendor’s tools will likely be the better choice here.

When it comes to virtualization management tools, there is no holy grail. If you can find a single tool that can perform 80% of your daily tasks, you have a winner in OpEx terms. You will almost certainly need to fall back on other tools for advanced configuration tasks, but the goal is to make that a rare exception -- not the rule.


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