Microsoft touts integrated systems management as a key selling point of Hyper-V, the company's free hypervisor that ships with Windows Server 2008. But some self-described Microsoft shops have found ways to run VMware successfully in an otherwise Windows-centric world.
Albany International Corp., a manufacturer of paper-making equipment in Albany, N.Y., has used VMware for four years and has no inclination to move to Hyper-V despite heavy reliance on Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) and other Microsoft products.
"We're a huge Microsoft shop, but VMware's always been a step ahead in virtualization," said Jeff Pardi, the manager of enterprise data services for the company. "When I say 'a step ahead,' I mean two or three years ahead," he added.Managing with SCOM and vCenter
Four years ago, Microsoft's virtualization was rudimentary when Albany implemented VMware. Since then, Microsoft virtualization has evolved into Hyper-V R2, which ships with Windows Server 2008 R2, and observers say that the technology has substantially caught up with VMware. Nevertheless, VMware has now taken hold at Albany Corp., so switching to Hyper-V isn't a consideration, Pardi said.
Meanwhile, Albany uses SCOM as its central management console to reduce and standardize the number of management interfaces in the organization.
"SCOM allows us to consolidate our alerting into one console, and see both physical servers and virtual servers from a Windows performance perspective," said Adam Domion, a systems engineer at the company.
The firm uses VMware vCenter for task-oriented jobs such as provisioning, said Pardi, but administrators spend most of their time in SCOM for ongoing performance monitoring and management, he said.
To that end, Albany implemented a tool from Veeam Software that exports VMware vCenter alerts to SCOM, where they can be reviewed by the network operations center (NOC). The Veeam nWorks Management Pack for VMware takes VMware-specific alerts on events such as ESX host disconnects and VMware Tools and pipes them to SCOM. "We're not getting rid of vCenter, but this way we don't need to configure it to send traps that we can send to our call center," Pardi said.Microsoft loyalist strays
After much convincing by the IT department, Comprehensive Software Systems (CSS) LLC, a software developer in Golden, Colo., runs VMware and has for about a year.
"We're a Microsoft Gold-certified partner, and if they build it, we usually run it," said Chadd Warwick, a system architect at the company. Convincing management to buy VMware rather than taking Hyper-V for free was a huge challenge, he said.
On the operating system side, CSS is an all-Microsoft shop, running mainly Windows Server 2008 R2, with few legacy applications still on Windows Server 2000 and 2003.
Warwick tested Hyper-V but settled on VMware for business and technical reasons. On the one hand, CSS offers its Software as a Service (SaaS) to brokerage houses, and Warwick worried that they would reject a Hyper-V-based SaaS offering. "Microsoft isn't always a good recommendation. When they hear we're running VMware, it becomes a nonissue."
From a management perspective, Warwick preferred VMware's architecture to Hyper-V's. vSphere sits below the operating system, whereas Hyper-V is in line with the Windows Server 2008 parent partition. Patching the hypervisor at the same time as the operating system has the potential to become "more of a management nightmare," he said.
Virtualization reaped immediate benefits for CSS, enabling the company to consolidate more than 100 servers and reduce power consumption by 80%. Nevertheless, staff was nervous about performance, Warwick recalls. The IT department was able to assuage those fears by installing performance management software from Vizioncore -- the free vFoglight QuickView initially, followed by the paid edition.
"We use [vFoglight] to look at alarms and problems," Warwick said. Admins "knew how to do this in a physical world, but in a virtual world, they were out of their comfort zone."
In particular, Warwick called out vFoglight's "Tivo" functionality (i.e., the ability to look at historical performance data as well as reporting capabilities that help upper management answer the question "Did I get what I paid for?").
Going forward, CSS will use the chargeback capabilities in vFoglight as part of its SaaS offering. "Chargeback is going to be huge for us. It's going to help us see if we're over- or underbidding our services," Warwick said.Microsoft management tools not cutting it?
Meanwhile, one Microsoft observer said that Microsoft had failed to seal the Hyper-V deal with loyal customers. And the problem isn't with Hyper-V so much as with its vaunted management tools.
Greg Shields, a partner and principal technologist at Concentrated Technologies, a consulting firm focused on Microsoft and virtualization, said that there's a disconnect between the quality of Microsoft's hypervisor and its virtualization management tools.
"Hyper-V today is beautiful. Their management tools . . . still need a little work," he said.
But just as Microsoft succeeded in simplifying cluster setup in Exchange Server 2010, Shields is confident that it will conquer virtualization management as well. "They need to drop a skin on it and make it drop-dead easy. And when they do, that's when we'll start to see better Hyper-V adoption."