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Comparing configuration and change management tools: What to look for

Configuration and change management affects capacity planning, DR and compliance. Find out which tools and features are available in the market.

The ability of configuration and change management tools to report on an infrastructure’s details is invaluable....

The tools are important for most virtual infrastructures, but they often take a backseat to backup and performance tools. Although they vary in their abilities, configuration and change management tools can provide instant reports or automate report distribution on a schedule. Some can only report, while others can make changes to the virtual infrastructure.

These tools perform some of the following functions:

  • report on who has changed what in the virtual infrastructure over time;
  • provide Visio diagrams of what is connected to what;
  • create custom reports, both internally and through external applications such as Excel;
  • publish reports on third-party dashboards such as SharePoint;
  • compare virtual infrastructure configurations over time; and
  • apply configurations to the virtual infrastructure.

The more virtual hosts and virtual machines (VMs) that reside in your infrastructure, the more important configuration reporting and change management tools become. You won’t be able to remember which admin added a new virtual machine six months ago or how many VMs your organization has added in the past year, but these tools will.

In many cases, configuration and change management tools help enterprises predict capacity problems before they cause outages. Automated reports also help justify the virtual infrastructure to corporate leaders.

Finally, these tools can help you prepare for disaster, pass audits and maintain regulatory compliance. Some configuration reporting and change management tools can help apply those configurations.

Configuration and change management tools become critical as virtual infrastructures grow. VMware Inc.’s purchase of Configuresoft Inc. in June 2009, as well as its renaming of its configuration management product as VMware’s vCenter Configuration Manager, demonstrated that configuration and change management are integral parts of enterprise vSphere virtual infrastructures.

VMware’s vCenter Configuration Manager focuses on managing the configuration of ESXi hosts as well as the VM guest operating systems. It ensures that those VMs comply with configuration, patch and security guidelines.

In the examples below of third-party configuration and change management tools, note how each helps manage virtual infrastructures and then assess how useful such tools are for your organization.

Configuration and management options
Embotics V-Commander is a Windows application that is typically installed on a virtual machine. Once installed, it works as a real-time connection into the vCenter server.

The installation configures vCenter to alert V-Commander to events. V-Commander also downloads historical performance data from the vCenter server. It can start providing information on sprawl and overprovisioning in 30 to 60 minutes after installation. V-Commander offers a mixture of change/configuration management and performance/capacity information.

In addition, V-Commander offers a self-service portal and workflow engine for a virtual infrastructure (see Figure 1). Thus, V-Commander is a hybrid tool with a variety of functions, but it can also have a larger price tag than tools that just perform, say, reporting or capacity. V-Commander also offers a vCenter plug-in.


Figure 1
V-commander, a hybrid tool, has a variety of functions. (Click image for an enlarged view.)

Reflex Systems LLC’s Virtualization Management Center (VMC) is a suite of three products that can be purchased separately. The three modules are vProfile Configuration Management (see Figure 2), vWatch Monitoring and vTrust Security. All Reflex products are installed with the same application and are licensed separately. Like other virtualization management apps, VMC can run on a VM in a virtual infrastructure.


Figure 2
Reflex vProfile Configuration Management plots VM configuration changes with a graphical heat-map interface that uses color to show disparities. (Click image for an enlarged view.)

Reflex’s primary concern is the security and compliance of a virtual infrastructure. Its configuration manager focuses on auditing host, VM and vCenter con- figurations; vProfile can reconfigure those objects if needed.

On the other hand, vWatch Monitoring focuses on performance of hosts and VMs as well as on change control. Although it is a performance analysis tool, it’s also strong in monitoring changes and fulfilling compliance and audit needs.

Not all virtualization management tools can be compared apples to apples. Some are configuration-based (for the host or VMs), and some are change management-based—typically for the entire virtual infrastructure. Some auditing tools are read-only reporting engines focused on how the infrastructure has changed over time, whereas others actually make changes in the virtual infrastructure for you.

Veeam Software’s Veeam Reporter comes in both a free version and a commercial version. The commercial version is also part of the Veeam One suite of products, which includes Business View and Monitor. Reporter is a Windows application that installs with its own local SQL database (unless you opt to point it to an existing SQL Server instance).

Once installed and connected to vCenter, Reporter collects data about the infrastructure at set intervals. With this data, you can run reports related to the inventory and configuration of the ESX hosts and VMs. Diagrams of the virtual infrastructure can be exported into Visio format, and reports can be exported into Excel format.

The commercial version of Reporter provides additional prebuilt reports related to capacity planning, PowerShell access and automated report delivery. Veeam Reporter has the framework for building and delivering your own reports.


Figure 3
The commercial version of Veeam Reporter has prebuilt reports related to capacity planning. (Click image for an enlarged view.)

Unlike performance, backup and recovery tools, it’s difficult to compare change and configuration management tools against one another. A tool like Veeam Reporter is tailored to a specific function and is priced accordingly.

On the other hand, tools such as V-Commander and Reflex VMC cost significantly more but also do significantly more for a virtualized infrastructure. The best vendors offer a free version of their tools as well as tools that install quickly (even as a virtual appliance) and have real-time connections to the virtual infrastructure. Some configuration and change management tools not only provide reports but also force VMs or hosts into compliance.

Unless you have a large and growing virtual infrastructure, you may be tempted to hold off on buying these tools as long as possible. You might spend your money on performance and backup/recovery tools or start with the free Veeam Reporter and Monitor. But in enterprise virtualized infrastructures -- especially those that must comply with numerous regulations—having a tool like Reflex to quickly provide audit reports and enforce compliance is critical.

This article first appeared in the Virtualization Management Tools Buying Guide and was commissioned by the TechTarget special projects team.

This was last published in January 2012

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