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New VMware Stage Manager tackles application lifecycle management

VMware's new Stage Manager plays in the murky landscape between application development and production environments.

Today, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. announced the public beta of Stage Manager, a tool for enterprise IT teams that shepherd complex enterprise applications from integration through to testing, staging, user acceptance and, finally, production phases.

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Integrated with VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3), the company's production-grade virtualization platform, Stage Manager presents a GUI through which a development manager can snapshot and clone applications -- sometimes made up of multiple, interrelated tiers -- and deliver them intact to developers, testing-and-development and quality assurance teams. Once a development manager is satisfied with the environment's features and stability, the environment can be promoted to the next development phase.

Stage Manager is akin to Lab Manager, VMware's test lab automation suite for software developers, but targets "the in-between stage between production and the app dev folks writing all the code," said Stephen Elliot, research director of the enterprise systems management software service at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "[Stage Manager] is where it meets in the middle."

Stage Manager takes all [the effort required previously],  reduces it to a simple GUI, and creates virtual system stacks with the push of a button.
Dave Welch,
presidentHouse of Brick Technologies

Without a tool like Stage Manager, getting applications production-ready can be time-consuming, resource-intensive and error-prone, said Melinda Wilken, VMware senior director of marketing. For example, "shadow instances" of a production environment "are always left on regardless of whether they're being used, because no one wants to muck with them," Wilken said.

Further, said Eddie Dinel, VMware Stage Manager product manager, "these shadow instances are never quite the same as the production environment," thanks to the configuration "drift" that results from accelerated release schedules and imperfectly cloned environments.

With Stage Manager, IT organizations benefit from "systematic and accurate propagation of complex system changes," said Wilken, while "reducing capital costs through better resource utilization."

Stage Manager's ecstatic beta tester
For at least one early beta tester, the advent of Stage Manager is a godsend. "It's like Christmas, Easter and my birthday all rolled into one," said Dave Welch, president of House of Brick Technologies, an IT integration firm in Omaha, Neb., that specializes in the operational monitoring and optimization of Oracle databases running on VMware. As it stands, replicating a production environment for test-and-development purposes can require dozens and dozens of physical servers and eat up hours of a technician's time cloning systems, Welch said. "Stage Manager takes all of that, reduces it to a simple GUI, and creates virtual system stacks with the push of a button."

Other welcome features of Stage Manager cited by Welch include the following:

  • storage-friendly disk "differencing" techniques that reduce the amount of disk capacity required by cloned virtual machines (VMs);
  • "network fencing," which enables multiple VMs to believe they've got the same host names and IP addresses; and
  • integration with VMware Converter, VMware's physical-to-virtual migration tool for virtualizing applications still on physical hardware into the cloned environment.

Welch believes that Stage Manager is in a class all its own. "There are tools out there where you could piece together Stage Manager's functionality VM by VM, but what Stage Manager does that's so exciting is take an entire system stack of multiple VMs -- for example an ERP [enterprise resource planning] suite -- captures all of that, and clones it into any number of stacks," he said.

Welch will encourage his customers to adopt Stage Manager because "we want to get their expensive technicians out of rote operations like cloning and get them back to what they were hired to do: [work] on revenue-generating projects."

A possible limitation of Stage Manager is that it's reserved for x86 environments supported by VI3 such as Windows, Linux and Solaris.

But as time goes on, that will pose less of a problem, said Welch. When House of Brick first opened its doors, Welch's team worked with many "scaled customers" running Oracle on RISC platforms running Solaris, AIX and HP-UX. "But it's interesting, today 90% of the implementation inquiries have been for Linux, not Unix," Welch said, such that running Oracle on Unix "is the exception, not the rule."

Stage Manager's general availability is scheduled for "this summer," said VMware's Wilken, at which point pricing and packaging will also be detailed.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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