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Is a single management tool enough for heterogeneous hypervisor environments?

When it comes to deciding how to manage a heterogeneous hypervisor environment, it can simply boil down to the price. The makeup of your environment also plays a role in choosing hypervisor management tools.

Virtualized organizations are increasingly heterogeneous, using multiple hypervisors to mitigate vendor-dependence. As more hypervisors enter the data center, using a single management tool is starting to become a viable option. But multi-hypervisor management tools are still relatively new, and it's important for organizations to evaluate and verify prospective tools before committing to a particular product. It's a bad idea to add a management tool on top of multiple hypervisor management consoles, because if the tool falls short, it might actually create more work for IT staff instead of making their jobs easier.

Is it possible for a single management tool to manage heterogeneous hypervisors? Is it better to use a native hypervisor vendor's management tool, or opt for a third-party tool?

Yes, it is certainly possible for a single management tool to provide at least some management capabilities across multiple hypervisors within the data center. As one example, VMware's vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager can connect Microsoft Hyper-V systems to vCenter Server.

It's important to point out that the functionality between major hypervisors may be similar, but the ways in which that functionality is implemented can vary dramatically between hypervisor vendors. These differences can have a profound impact on the way management tools recognize and interact with different hypervisors. Updates and patches to a particular hypervisor may not be properly accommodated by the management tool, leading to lost management control, reporting errors and other potential problems. It is always important to test upcoming changes in a lab environment to determine possible problems (and find workarounds) before rolling out changes to production.

Multi-hypervisor support can be implemented as a client- or server-based architecture. For example, the vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager server is a server-side component that allows vCenter Server to manage multiple hypervisors. The manager and vCenter Server can be on the same physical server if the platform runs Windows Server, or the manager can also be deployed on a separate server. By comparison, a plug-in, such as vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager plug-in, is a client-side plug-in that provides a GUI for heterogeneous hypervisor management in vSphere.

As for the choice between a native management tool or a third-party tool, it is not a simple question to answer because of the various considerations involved. Generally, the choice will depend on the option that provides the best support and performance for your specific environment -- including current hypervisors and the predictions for future hypervisor deployments within the environment. At the same time, the choice of tool is also influenced by the cost and required learning curve.

You may find that a tool from a hypervisor vendor -- such as VMware's vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager or Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) -- may present a better financial deal and lower learning curve. For example, there may be a financial incentive for a Microsoft shop to use SCVMM to handle a relatively new ESXi deployment. Similarly, there may be a cost and familiarity incentive for a VMware shop to use vCenter Multi-Hypervisor Manager (MHM) while supporting some Hyper-V systems. However, it will take research and testing to verify that the tool will support non-native hypervisors while meeting performance requirements. For example, the initial release of MHM did not support vSphere Web Client, Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer.

By comparison, third-party tools can potentially support a wider range of hypervisors while supporting them equally. One example is HotLink SuperVISOR for VMware vCenter, which uses vCenter to support Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (KVM) without the need for native console control; the learning curves and interdependencies are lowered when eliminating native consoles, toolsets and APIs. With the push to support cloud environments, some management tools may need to support cloud entities like Amazon EC2.

Also consider the support for virtualization features. For example, the heterogeneous hypervisor management tool should support all of the unique features available in each hypervisor, such as live migration, platform cloning, templates, snapshots and workload conversions. If feature support is lacking, some hypervisor capabilities may be unavailable -- leaving an organization under-served by the management tool.

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