Forget the hypervisor wars. The new competitive front for VMware is in virtualization management tools, where the virtualization provider faces competition from third-party vendors as well as from Microsoft and Citrix Systems. For now, many users prefer management tools from smaller, more focused third-party vendors that solve immediate problems.
Users say that VMware Inc. still falls behind its partner ecosystem in two chief areas: monitoring and capacity planning. For example, virtual server lifecycle management and automation ISV Embotics Corp. recently released version 3.6 of its V-Commander. The update adds a self-service portal and ongoing performance monitoring and reporting tools for application owners in addition to the ability to request, power on, power off or suspend VMs. The service portal can also customize monitoring in the areas most important to an application owner.
VMware users say that with this kind of functionality missing from vCenter, VMware's management suite for its virtualization platform vSphere, they have to turn to third-party tools to fill the gap. "VCenter collects a lot of data," said Wayne Coleman, an area coordinator of virtualization for a Fortune 15 company in the medical distribution and software industry. "But there are a lot of manual hoops to get the information you want." As VMware's annual conference, VMworld 2010.approaches, the battlefront has moved from the hypervisor wars to improved virtualization management.
Third-party management tools to fill VMware voids
One IT manager said a preview of Embotics' V-Commander self-service portal compelled him to adopt the product in December, even though the feature wasn't shipping at the time. Allowing users to not only operate but also troubleshoot virtual machines (VMs) frees up IT staff from dozens of help desk requests each day, said Alex McCollom, IT infrastructure manager AIR Worldwide Inc., a subsidiary of Insurance Services Office Inc., that provides catastrophe modeling services for insurance and government agencies. "The real business value of virtualization is improving workflows," McCollom said. Instead of putting out fires, the self-service portal means staff "can take a breather and plan for next year instead of constantly lifecycling VMs."
At the time, VMware did not offer self-service portals through vCenter, and McCollom didn't believe VMware's Lifecycle Manager was as mature as Embotics' offering, which also includes a predictive cost-analysis feature.
VKernel users say even some of the vendor's free offerings are more user-friendly for capacity planning than VMware's CapacityIQ. The full VKernel Capacity Management suite also got a facelift last week, adding support for allocation and utilization of thin provisioned storage volumes; the ability to reclaim VMs on a pre-determined schedule or on demand; a new capacity availability calculator that includes disk throughput limitations; high availability (HA) failure notifications that account for whether there's sufficient failover capacity on clustered hosts; customizable VM monitoring; and management federation across multiple vCenters.
Coleman, the area virtualization coordinator, said VKernel's console presents the data he's looking for in a more easily accessible format than does vCenter and does some of the cross-referencing legwork between data center domains, easing troubleshooting and reducing inefficiency.
Users say they find third-party tools more effective than vCenter for other management functions as well. One solutions architect from a financial services company in the southwest said he prefers Vizioncore's vOptimizer to VMware's vSphere thin provisioning feature for reclaiming underutilized disk space. "You can recover costs by optimizing disks to the right size instead of overallocating,"he said. "It can require some downtime, but we can expand volumes relatively easily."
Likewise, lab management is another area where some IT managers prefer the competition. Take Mark Romano, director of channel marketing at Seattle-based network and email security vendor WatchGuard. Romano said it was difficult for WatchGuard to replicate its production environment for test and development with multiple subnets using VMware's vCenter Lab Manager. "VMLogix made that possible," he said. Meanwhile, VMLogix says it intends to bring its management software out of the lab and into the cloud later this year, opening up a new front of competition with VMware.
Virtualization management's day of reckoning
What gives third parties a boost now, according to Bernd Harzog, a senior analyst at The Virtualization Practice, is that users today can make comparisons between third-party tools and specific, disparate VMware offerings under the vCenter umbrella. For independent vendors, each niche VMware has to cover with vCenter as a comprehensive package is "lifeblood," and this focus puts them ahead of VMware in each specific area.
But a few years from now, Harzog predicts that VMware will have a virtualization management suite that will cover security, configuration, monitoring and enhanced management more comprehensively. The virtualization ecosystem is already reacting to this byadding support for Hyper-V to products and companies working to differentiate themselves through heterogeneity, Harzog said.
Until then, both VMware and third-party vendors have the opportunity to sell to a new IT buyer: the virtualization administrator, who may not be as familiar with the incumbents in the data center management software space the organization may already use and that offer support for physical as well as virtual infrastructure.
Eventually, enterprises will have to rationalize separate software tools currently being used for different management niches in the data center. Until that day comes, both VMware and third-parties are developing virtualization management tools at a breakneck pace, and no clear victor in any category has emerged, Harzog said. "There is no management stack for virtualization; all there is are products that each solve a piece of the problem. … My advice to users is to decide what problem they are going to solve, then to look at the products."
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Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.