Endangered Species: Vendor neutral VM Management

One of the less common questions I get asked around management – and again it hides secret VMware Vs Microsoft Vs Another Vendor debate - is "If you accept that ESX currently is the best platform for running VMs, does that necessarily mean that vCenter is the best management platform?"

Is there room for a vendor neutral management platform?
Are there other management tools for ESX other than vCenter?

Of course, the grand-daddy of all these questions is usually – when will VMware manage HyperV and Xen? And will Microsoft SCVMM replace vCenter? The answer is as ever – possibly to first one, and quite possibly never to the second. Anyway, lets take each of these questions in turn and answer them.

Is there room for a vendor neutral management platform?

Yes, there already is it’s called Kodiak from Bluebear - 

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Additionally, for some years both IBM and HP had their own management tools. So given the cost of vCenter why didn’t they take off?  Well, mostly because these OEM were pretty much useless, and you had to buy vCenter to configure advanced features like VMotion. These OEM management tools are pretty much useless because you couldn’t do any of the “high-level” stuff that I do on a daily basis. They were only useful if your day-to-day existence was made up of powering off and on virtual machines…

Are there other management tools for ESX other than vCenter?

Yes, there are – they are mentioned above. But in the main you have to buy vCenter to use them. So effectively all you're doing is putting another layer (a 5th layer – do you get the joke?) between you and the VM. 

Will VMware manage HyperV and Xen?

Possibly. It can’t be too difficult. Weirdly, pure-ESX only customers ask this a lot. Despite the fact they have no commitment to HyperV or Xen! I don’t really know what that is about. vCenter is OK, but as a management tool it occasionally annoys me. I can report vCenter 4 is MUCH improved against Vi3. Take this question as a vote of confidence in VMware & vCenter. I don’t think it would cost VMware that much to do, but whether it makes sense to spend valuable QA resources on supporting your COMPETITORS product remains debatable. I think HyperV and Xen would have a much bigger market share to make those calculations add up. Of course, growth of HyperV and Xen’s market share isn’t really part of VMware’s master plan is it? 

Could Microsoft SCVMM replace vCenter?

No (OK, not in its current guise).

Its record of using SCVMM with ESX. And just like the other tools mentioned you need vCenter license to get the deeply piss-poor “integration” (note the Stephen Fry speech marks) that SCVVM offers.


In my experience, so called vendor neutral management – invariable means compromises along way:


  • Its not vendor neutral, you just bought some other vendors – vendor neutral management system
  • You nearly always need the underlying vendors management system anyway…
  • It’s never as good as the vendors native tools – because it tries to be all things to all people. It ends up pleasing only some of the people some of the time…
  • NT4 Domain tools like Dameware & Hyena were once popular – but as Microsoft improved its management tools – they became nice-to-have addons, rather than must have…

What’s the threat to VMware? The thing I care customers care about are the services that run inside the Guest Operating System – for most people this means Windows 90% of the time. If we change the question from “What’s the best management system to manage ESX and VMs?” to “What’s the best way to manage and monitor Windows Services?” – I imagine many wouldn’t be saying vCenter. In short vCenter is my personal belief that vCenter is going to have to evolve into not just telling me more about my ESX, VMs, vNetwork, vStorage – it’s going to have to give me a window into my Windows.

Of course I’m describing some Holy Grail which has been touted many times – and never, ever delivered, a single pane of glass into all of my infrastructure. I remain skeptical that this will ever be delivered. There’s just too much propriety vendor stuff going on and not enough commercial drive to create standards which allow a foot-in-the-door to the competition. What could change the paradigm greatly is if this vCenter-on-Linux takes off and vCenter just becomes a free virtual appliance you can download.

This was first published in April 2009

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