Nestled deep in the list of new features in VMware vSphere 4 is VMware vCenter Orchestrator, a workflow automation engine that VMware got with its 2007 Dunes acquisition.
Previously, Orchestrator was available only as an add-on to VMware Lifecycle Manager, but now the drag-and-drop graphical user interface-based tool is freely available and can be used to automate common tasks such as provisioning and deprovisioning virtual machines (VMs).
A few third-party management vendors are also starting to integrate with Orchestrator. Systems monitoring vendor Uptime Software announced today that events gathered by its up.time 5.2 platform can trigger Orchestrator workflows. Orchestrator can also create trouble tickets in BMC Software Inc.'s Remedy service desk software.
VMware Orchestrator could drive automation
Making Orchestrator free in vSphere may help jump-start a moribund market for virtualization automation, said Geert Baeke, a technology manager at Xylos, a Belgian systems integrator. So far, interest in Orchestrator and VMware Lifecycle Manager has outweighed adoption, he said.
"We see some demand for orchestration and automation, but it doesn't always translate into buying the tools," Baeke said. In his experience, Lifecycle Manager "is a bit too complex" and "not always that cheap." For companies to spend the extra money on it, "they really have to see the value."
Customers' initial enthusiasm for automation tends to wane when they realize how much work it takes to set things up, said Tim Jacobs, a solutions architect at Xylos. "The difficulty is defining all the mappings that you have," he said. "Creating a decision tree and defining your entire virtual infrastructure can be quite a lot of work." When customers realize that, they tend to re-evaluate their need for automation, he said.
In the past, Orchestrator and Lifecycle Manager were- plagued by technical issues, said David Convery, a systems integrator and blogger at Daily Hypervisor. One client wanted to automate its VM approval process, but the process took longer to complete with Lifecycle Manager than by doing it manually.
"Lifecycle Manager probably needs to be tweaked," Convery said. In large enterprises, "hundreds and hundreds of objects need to be accessed, and that bogs things down."
But now that Orchestrator is freely available, things might change. "As consultants, we'll definitely use it more now that we don't have to sell it," said Backe.
Run-book automation vendors soldier on
Meanwhile, a bevy of third-party virtualization vendors -- Vizioncore Inc. with vControl and Citrix Systems Inc. with Citrix Workflow Studio and DynamicOps have tried their hands at automation..
They join a long list of vendors with generic run-book automation software, including Opalis Software, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Operations Orchestration (formerly OpsWare), and BMC's Atrium Orchestrator.
The challenge for virtualization-specific tools is that most companies do not have completely virtualized environments, said Andi Mann, a vice president of research at Enterprise Management Associates. With VMware Orchestrator, for instance, "you're fine if you have just VMware, but most organizations do not -- they also want to tie into physical systems, patch management, service desk" and the like, he said.
Not surprisingly, Mann said market penetration for run-book automation is low. That's unfortunate, he said, because when it is successfully implemented, "organizations are better able to achieve their goals" such as reducing cost, retaining skilled labor, and reducing errors.
For vendors like Uptime, then, it becomes a question of educating its customers, said Alex Bewley, Uptime CTO. By integrating with Uptime's systems monitoring capabilities, VMware users can now trigger workflows related to changes in system performance or availability, Bewley said. When they understand that, "they go from 'I don't know when I'd ever use that,' to 'I don't know how I ever got along without it.'"