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I was quite taken by Microsoft's concept of the virtual machine (VM) hardware profile in System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 (SCVMM).
You can achieve similar results with VMware, either by using multiple templates or by creating a new VM from a template and editing its settings before turning on the VM. To some degree it's horses for courses, but I rather liked this separation of the template from its VM's definition. When you create a new VM, you can select the hardware profiles you have defined from a pull-down list.
SCVMM self-service portal: Nice and easy
Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 also ships with a self-service portal -- essentially, a Web-based tool that allows you to dial-up and create a VM on demand. The user interface is very simple and driven by a role-based permission system.
I first saw such a portal put together by a VMware employee some years ago for ESX 2/vCenter1. The SCVMM self-service portal itself is less functional than the VMware Web Access page on vCenter Server and is more task driven. To create a similar portal in VMware, you would probably need the Orchestrator system, which is now bundled with vSphere 4.
I think it's fair to say you would be up and running with the SCVMM self-service portal more quickly than you would with Orchestrator. You could argue that the need for a self-service portal is a small one, because most administrators are happy to create VMs from templates or by using PowerShell scripts. But as we progress to an increasingly automated virtual world, the need for users to create their own VMs on demand will rise.
The other thing I quite liked about the SCVMM self-service portal is when you set up user or group access, you can give them a quota of VMs they can create (say, 25).
The only downside of the SCVMM self-service portal is that the role-based permissions system was somewhat modest. To create more roles, you have to define them using Microsoft's Authorization Manager. Additionally, there is no obvious way to create a workflow that sends approve/deny emails, so you could end up with users creating VMs willy-nilly with any specifications they like -- and without controls.
Jobs window in Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager
System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 has a Jobs window, which shows in a very detailed way the progress of any task. The Jobs window also has the functionality to restart, abort and ignore jobs that have malfunctioned. VMware vCenter does have much-improved progress bars and event logging, but I was more impressed with the Jobs view.
I wasn't the only one impressed by this level of track-and-trace functionality. A fellow student in the course made a point of saying how limited vCenter is in this respect.
In all seriousness, I would like to make a general point here. What I hope is that Microsoft, Citrix Systems and VMware all download and use their competitor's products -- not to look for deficiencies and weakness, with which they can fill their corporate blogs with FUD and counter-FUD, but to look for good ideas to introduce into their own technologies.
About the expert
Mike Laverick (VCP) has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualization website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users, and has recently joined SearchVMware.com as an Editor at Large. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish VMware user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.