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VMware users ponder need for management from iPhone, BlackBerry

Products that manage virtual environments from mobile devices are here, but not all VMware users are interested.

VMware administrators who need to manage their environments from a mobile device now have a lot more options.

Rove Mobile Inc. has a new version of its Mobile Admin product that adds VMware vCenter to the list of applications and environments it can manage, and VMware plans to launch a technology preview of its new vCenter Mobile Access next month.

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Available as a native application for BlackBerrys and as a Web application for other devices, the new Mobile Admin can communicate with vCenter, not just connect to individual VMware ESX hosts. Rove Mobile Admin also manages Windows and Linux operating systems, Microsoft SQL Server, Active Directory, Lotus Domino, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Meanwhile, vCenter Mobile Access is designed as a Web application and has been tested on Symbian (or Nokia E71), iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile devices. When it ships, it will let administrators search for virtual machines, initiate VMotion events, invoke VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) disaster recovery plans, and access tasks, alarms and events. More information and a video demonstration of VMware vCenter Mobile Access, here.

System administrators at the Trizetto Group Inc., a health-care management provider in Newport Beach, Calif., use Rove Mobile Admin to manage more than 300 VMware ESX hosts and the several thousand virtual machines that run on them. Mike Keller, a Trizetto systems engineer said that the ability to perform routine VI management functions such as checking the status of a host or virtual machine status, doing power operations (power on/off, suspend, reboot, etc.) or even adding memory and CPU capacity to a VM from his BlackBerry is extremely useful.

"Sometimes there are questions that only you know the answer to," Keller said. With access to Mobile Admin, "you can leave the office and not worry about it." He estimated that at least once a week, Trizetto administrators find a use for Mobile Admin.

True demand still a question
The coolness factor notwithstanding, it's unclear how many IT shops will be willing to find the cash for the right to manage a virtual environment from a mobile device. Pricing for Rove Mobile Admin starts at $1,595 per management server, plus $200 to $300 per user license. Pricing for vCenter Mobile Access has not been set but will probably be free, said Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware director of product management.

David Davis, the director of infrastructure at computer training firm TrainSignal, said that in his former life as a full-time VMware administrator, he rarely needed mobile device management. "When we did, we just ran the VI Client over a VPN using home Internet connections or a cellular Internet connection from a car or whatever." [Check out Davis's new tip on managing VMware ESX over a cellular network.

VMware blogger and administrator Jason Boche echoed that sentiment. "People have been talking about remote management from the beaches for a decade, and the tools are available. But I rarely see or hear of people actually doing it."

Trizetto's Keller, however, said that Mobile Admin frees him up to attend family and sporting events without having to drag his laptop along. "It's just much easier."
People have been talking about remote management from the beaches for a decade.
Jason Boche
VMware administrator

The releases of Rove Mobile Admin 4.2 and VMware vCenter Mobile Access raise important questions about mobile device applications: How can an application optimized for a tiny mobile device support the vast array of devices now available?

While Rove Mobile Admin has a native client for BlackBerrys, for example, it has no plans to natively support Apple's iPhone. That's because the large enterprises that Rove targets raise security concerns about the iPhone, said Rob Woodbridge, Rove's president and CEO. "[iPhone] has the encryption piece, but you have to go outside of the network to the App Store to install the software," he said. Next up on Rove's list of supported platforms are devices from Nokia and Google Android phones.

But the quality of the Web browsers on the iPhone and Google Android phones all but eliminate the need for a native client, said Andrew Kutz, the developer of Virtualization Manager Mobile, or VMM. As an iPhone-optimized Web application built with the Google Web Toolkit, Kutz said VMM sparks no software licensing problems and can run on any device with a modern Web browser.

In the next two months, a commercial version of VMM will launch from Hyper-9, Kutz's employer, and will feature a new view manager that drills down to the virtual infrastructure elements, Kutz said. Price will be based on number of VMs, and the goal is to charge little enough such that "if you use it once, it will have been worth it."

Kutz has high expectations. "I think VMM stands a very good chance of being the next hot product, because it touches on three hot buttons: mobility, security and the iPhone."

Rove's Woodbridge has had that kind of enthusiasm ever since his company's founding in 2001. As one of the first independent software vendors to license application programming interfaces from RIM, "we thought that the market was just around the corner." Eight years later, with mobile devices becoming more powerful and pervasive, "now I can honestly say I believe that."

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

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