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VMware Lab Manager users want clarity on vCloud Director

With significant overlap between key VMware products, users see the writing on the wall for Lab Manager, Will vCloud Director take Lab Manager's place?

As VMware continues to hone its cloud-computing strategy and offerings, users have been left to wonder about the fate of other key products in VMware's lineup.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. has put a lot of stock in its new cornerstone technology, vCloud Director (vCD), to enable users to build and manage private and hybrid clouds. But vCD's capabilities also overlap with other key VMware offerings that users rely on, such as VMware Lab Manager. Both products essentially provide portals to distribute resources automatically and flexibly to users.

 "VCloud Director has a lot of the same functionality as Lab Manager, with a couple of exceptions," said Guy Bowers, a VMware systems engineer.

Given the slow pace of Lab Manager development since 2009, observers and users alike want VMware to clarify its Lab Manager strategy -- and resist sweeping changes until the offerings have feature parity.

Lab Manager vs. vCloud Director
The fate of the two products was a hot topic at last week's New England-area VMware User Group (VMUG). During a keynote, Bowers detailed how Lab Manager offered up hands-on sessions at VMworld 2010 in San Francisco. But he expects vCloud Director to be enlisted at next year's show, not Lab Manager.

But Lab Manager offers some key capabilities that vCloud Director lacks. The key distinction that vCloud Director doesn't support linked clones, Bowers said. Linked clones point back to a parent volume rather than make a full copy of virtual machine data, which saves storage space. "We have customers with thousands of virtual machines in Lab Manager; it would be cost-prohibitive for them to use full storage."

VCloud Director also lacks Lab Manager's Record/Replay feature, Bowers said. This capability records I/O operations of a VM and replays them on a secondary host -- which can be used to perform bug fixes in a test and development environment. And that's not the end of the vCD fine print in version 1.0.

Asked whether vCloud Director would replace Lab Manager beyond next year's VMworld labs, Bowers said, "I don't know, quite frankly. Hopefully nobody will try anything silly until there's feature parity."

Too little Lab Manager development
Still, even in its nascent form, there is too much overlap between vCloud Director and Lab Manager for most users to believe it's a coincidence -- especially since Lab Manager's last major release was in July 2009.

Lab Manager creates "Organizations" and "Workspaces" to organize and automate the deployment of virtual workloads for testing and developing new applications in a simulated virtual environment. VCloud Director creates "virtual data centers" consisting of compute, memory, network and storage resources, which are presented to end users or developers for automated provisioning in a production environment.

VMware's own Knowledge Base support page, however, notes only scalability differences between the two products. (Lab Manager is limited to one vCenter instance, and vCloud Director can be layered over multiple vCenter deployments).But the article doesn't mention the different use cases. In fact, it states that vCloud Director's multiple cloud cells "replace a single Lab Manager server "and that vCloud Director's clustered and load-balanced environment "replace[s] a single point of failure environment" (emphasis added).

Meanwhile, VMware users say Lab Manager development has stalled. "It seems like they've stopped development on Lab Manager," said a VMUG attendee, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There's been no major release or update for a year and a half."

Another VMUG attendee, Rob Bergin, an IT director at Eliza Corp., in Beverly, Mass., said that Lab Manager is "a giant mess" for keeping up with new releases of applications that he's wanted to run, aside from VMware's own vSphere releases. Supporting Windows 7 within Lab Manager has been a particularly thorny issue in his shop, Bergin said. "For us, it's been hit and miss. Lab Manager is a great idea, and vCloud Director is a great idea, but let's see if it's actually a great product."

If vCloud Director is the future, what's the cost?
Users welcome an update to the languishing Lab Manager, but they worry whether its replacement will come with a price hike.

"Licensing is another can of worms above and beyond the technical hurdles that vCloud Director has to overcome to match Lab Manager," said virtualization evangelist and VMware user Jason Boche. VCloud Director, for example, requires an Enterprise Plus license -- a tier that most Lab Manager users haven't purchased.

In a recent blog post, Boche outlined other potential cost hikes that users could face if Lab Manager is replaced by vCloud Director, including a move to an Oracle back-end database from Microsoft's much cheaper SQL Server -- which underpins Lab Manager.

"VMware also has to figure out how to make the transition easy and seamless from both a technology and licensing standpoint," Boche added. Today, there's little information about upgrade path from Lab Manager to vCloud Director, or whether Lab Manager users might get a break on vCloud Director licensing costs.

Most of all, VMware Lab Manager users just want to know what to plan for, said Chris Wolf, a research vice president at Gartner Inc. "I think it's safe to assume that vCloud Director will subsume the features of Lab Manager," he said. "VMware needs to be more transparent with Lab Manager customers about what the migration path would be."

VMware officials did not return requests for comment as of press time.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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