Heterogeneous virtualization shops aim to simplify management

Tools that plug in to native consoles can help VMware and Hyper-V shops tackle the challenges and complexities of multi-hypervisor management.

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Organizations that run VMware and Hyper-V together have more heterogeneous virtualization management tools at their disposal, but there's still a ways to go.

Microsoft Corp.'s Hyper-V has gained traction in VMware Inc.'s customers' shops, so demand for multi-hypervisor management tools is on the rise.

Early offerings provided only basic capabilities. Newer tools, however, give users the features they expect from their platforms' native management software and reduce the complexity of heterogeneous virtualization environments.

'Multiple platforms are the Achilles heel'

Video game developer Electronic Arts' virtual infrastructure includes hundreds of thousands of VMware and Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs) running on more than 25,000 physical servers, and the company has another 20,000 VMs in the cloud with Amazon Web Services.

"It's just completely out of control," Chief Information Officer Mark Tonnesen said.

The eventual goal is to consolidate and simplify the infrastructure as much as possible, but the immediate task is to get visibility into the performance and configuration of these VMs. To that end, Electronic Arts (EA) deployed HotLink Hybrid Express, a VMware vCenter plug-in for managing Amazon and other public cloud workloads, in two of its development studios.

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Another HotLink product, SuperVISOR, lets users manage Hyper-V -- as well as Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer and Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- through vCenter without additional tools. It supports features such as VM template and snapshot management, as well as live migration. Version 2, which launched earlier this year, also offers compatibility with VMware vCloud Director and PowerCLI.

HotLink's integration with vCenter was an important selling point for EA because employees already know how to use that product, Tonnesen said.

"I didn't want to have to hire any new people," he said. "I didn't want to have to retrain any people."

As the hypervisor becomes a commodity, it doesn't make sense to have separate management consoles for platforms that basically do the same thing, said Lynn LeBlanc, CEO of HotLink.

"Multiple platforms are always the Achilles heel of management," she said. "It ends up having so many parts that aren't designed to work together."

Christie Digital Systems Canada, a Microsoft System Center shop in Kitchener, Ont., tried to avoid this situation when it chose a virtualization monitoring tool. The company, which runs VMware but is considering Hyper-V, went with the Veeam Management Pack for VMware, a plug-in that ties into System Center's native monitoring of physical and Hyper-V environments.

"It's good to know that we have that ability if and when we branch out into Hyper-V," said Scott Elliott, a network and systems supervisor at Christie.

The company runs Veeam Management Pack 5 and is evaluating version 6, which launched this month. The new release features more detailed reporting on storage and network utilization, as well as integration with System Center 2012 dashboards.

"Microsoft customers are running VMware," said Doug Hazelman, Veeam's vice president of product strategy. "It's in Microsoft's best interests that they have full support of what the customers are using."

Microsoft, VMware tackle heterogeneous virtualization

VMware and Microsoft have also made strides in multi-hypervisor management, in recognition of the trend toward heterogeneity. Microsoft has long touted the ability of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) to manage VMware, though it had significant limitations, especially in earlier releases.

Product pricing

HotLink SuperVISOR for VMware vCenter 2.0 is available in a free edition that supports up to three hosts and 15 VMs. The standard edition list price is $26,700. The free edition of HotLink Hybrid Express supports up to 10 Amazon EC2 instances, and the standard edition costs $26,700.

The Veeam Management Pack for VMware starts at $450 per socket.

"You can manage a small fraction of what you can manage with vCenter," Elliott said. "VMM is not a replacement for vCenter -- far from it."

VMware, on the other hand, has come late to the party. For years, company execs said there was no need to offer heterogeneous virtualization management because there was no customer demand. Things started to change in 2011 when the company released an experimental Hyper-V management plug-in for vCenter called XVP Manager. Earlier this year, VMware released a formal product, vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager.

"They finally acknowledge that there are other people out there who can do the hypervisor," Elliott said.

The release of Hyper-V 2012 has led many organizations to take another look at Microsoft's virtualization offerings, said David Kinsman, a national technical solutions architect with World Wide Technology, an IT solutions provider based in St. Louis. Its close ties to System Center make it a compelling story for customers that use that product, he said.

Microsoft has also worked to bring Hyper-V closer to feature parity with VMware.

"We used to scoff at Microsoft," Kinsman said. "Hyper-V was a joke. If you hear people still doing that today, you know that they're not current."

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