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With Lab Management 5.4, Surgient claims an edge over VMware Lab Manager

Among Surgient Lab Management 5.4 new features are support for VMware ESX Server 3.5, Firefox and HP Quality Center, but VMware won't concede a disadvantage.

Austin, Texas-based Surgient Inc. released Lab Management Platform, 5.4, which includes added features and support for Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 and VMware Inc.'s latest ESX Server 3.5.

For more on virtualization technology:
VMware ESX 3.5 features: Too little, too soon?

New VMware Stage Manager tackles application lifecycle management

But Surgient also competes with VMware Lab Manager, and the two companies have taken pains to note the flaws of the competition's offering.

We are more efficient in that we don't have to set up new hardware for every developer.
Chris Blair,
VP of product managementInsureSoft Ltd.

Users benefit from virtual lab automation tools because testing environments can be created more quickly and at a lower cost than if these environments were created manually. Surgient's Lab Management Platform, for example, takes all the temporary replicas of production software configurations -- including those used for software development, testing, evaluation and training -- and consolidates them into a central management console.

Lab Management Platform 5.4 includes features that provide support for VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS), a clustered file system used to store virtual machine (VM) disk images using shared, distributed storage area network logical unit numbers (LUNs), and additional library content, including virtual machine images that can be moved to other locations as a system grows.

Additionally, Surgient Lab Management Platform 5.4 has the following characteristics:

  • It supports SOAP and command-line integration approaches.
  • It enables Apple users to access virtual labs remotely with a Firefox browser. Surgient remote-access support for Mac OS X includes the ability to access lab environments via a OSX version of Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection and Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA).
  • And it includes an add-in for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP Quality Center test management tool and the ability to use testing tool hosts maintained outside the application deployment.

Like Surgient's offering, VMware's Lab Manager 2.5 is also tied to HP Quality Center.

By the end of 2008, Surgient plans to support Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer and Microsoft Windows Server 2008's impending Hyper-V technology in its upcoming version, said Surgient VP of Product Strategy Erik Josowitz.

Gaining man-hours
Chris Blair, the VP of product management at the insurance software provider InsureSoft Ltd., uses Surgient Lab Management Platform 5.3 in conjunction with HP Quality Center to test new software and plans to upgrade to 5.4 given its efficiency benefits for a testing environment.

"We are more efficient [with Surgient's Lab Management Platform] in that we don't have to set up new hardware for every developer and every different account, we can load the system into the virtual environment once and allow access from different angles," Blair said.

Blair said the company has not quantified specific cost savings but has noticed a savings of about an hour per configuration, which added up to significant cost savings in terms of man-hours.

Surgient virtual lab management software, version 5.4, is now available beginning at $15,000 per managed CPU and includes licensing, annual maintenance and support.

Surgient, VMware joust on features
VMware's Lab Manager tool is Surgient's biggest competitor in this space, and each company purports to have advantages over the other.

One area of contention involves who can use the software when. Josowitz said "only Surgient's lab management solution provides the capability to schedule time in the lab with a particular application configuration and then guarantees the reservation, meaning that it guarantees that the capacity will be available. VMware's Lab Manager is designed around the principle of first-come, first-served. This design principle, however, doesn't really work in an environment where you have multiple, large teams and remote or outsourced team members."

James Phillips, VMware's senior director of lifecycle solutions, responded to this criticism by saying that Surgient's scheduling requirement is "a classic case of a vendor trying to make a bug look like a feature. … Surgient requires scheduling lab time because it takes forever to deploy a Surgient configuration to the server pool."

"Instead of having users wait around for up to an hour for a Surgient configuration to be ready to use, Surgient requires that they schedule a time for the configuration to be deployed. This way, the configuration is ready when the user's time comes," Phillips said. "This is great if you are running a training class tomorrow, not great at all if you just built a software system and need to run a quick test on it."

Making the case for VMware's method, Phillips said, "The beauty of virtualization technology is that it breaks the traditional dependency on things like the sharing of a limited number of physical servers," he said, "The old way of running a lab was to have users schedule time to use the shared equipment because it couldn't be shared. With VMware Infrastructure and Lab Manager, users are able to create virtual machines on shared physical servers whenever they need them, without forcing them to plan ahead or wait a long time for provisioning. With Lab Manager, the provisioning operation happens in seconds, not minutes or hours."

As for platform support, Surgient supports virtualization from Microsoft and VMware, as well as blended configurations where portions of an application run on different systems, Josowitz said. VMware Lab Manager supports only VMware virtualization and manages only VM hosts that share the same version of VMware.

As customers begin to demand support for other platforms, VMware will consider supporting the latest vendors' flavor of virtualization technology.

Surgient also claims to be more scalable than VMware's Lab Manager tool because Surgient supports working with as many "virtual NICs," or network interface cards, as the virtualization platform will support – which can mean four per VM. "VMware Lab Manager can support only one virtual NIC per VM and only supports flat network configurations -- meaning you can't model real production application configurations in it," Josowitz said.

VMware's Phillips countered that with Lab Manager, the console feed goes straight from an ESX server to the client browser, so the Lab Manager server is not a bottleneck and there is "practically no limit to the scalability of Lab Manager."

"Lab Manager is far more efficient than Surgient or any other competitor in the usage of storage because of its use of linked clones and linked clone chains," Phillips said. "The result is the ability to make a copy of a VM efficiently, to make a copy of a copy of a VM equally efficiently, and so on. Surgient requires caching of files, which is costly from a storage standpoint; Lab Manager does not. Storage cost savings alone have won many, many deals for Lab Manager."

In January 2008, VMware released in beta another application lifecycle management tool, Stage Manager.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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