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VMware virtualization management plans mystify users

At the top of users' holiday wish lists is to understand VMware's roadmap for virtualization management and virtual data center management offerings in the new year.

As 2010 draws to a close, users, partners and industry experts say they want greater clarity from VMware about its virtualization management tools.

For virtualization pros, sorting through the increasing number of virtual data center management tools that have hit the market lately is easier said than done, whether the comparison is between new products from VMware Inc. and those of third-party competitors or those in VMware's existing portfolio.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, a virtual infrastructure admin for a technology company in Israel, has been testing VMware's CapacityIQ capacity planning product for possible use in his company's 400-virtual machine environment.

But Saidel-Keesing says he also wants to understand where the various monitoring and management products in VMware's portfolio are headed. Specifically, he says he wonders about feature overlaps between CapacityIQ, AppSpeed, vCenter Configuration Manager (VCM) and the new Alive VM product that's based on VMware's recent acquisition of Integrien Inc.

"I wonder if they will eventually be merged into one product," Saidel-Keesing said. "One product that does application monitoring, capacity planning and infrastructure insight, maybe [with each of these features] offered as modules."

One VMware value-added reseller in the Northeast said that VMware has so many relatively new tools that it has caused confusion among sales reps as well as customers. Aside from vCloud Director, Alive VM, the latest updates to CapacityIQ, AppSpeed, Hyperic, and the Ionix suite acquired from EMC last year, sales reps also need to get up to speed on vShield Edge, vShield Zones, and vCenter Application Discovery Manager. "VMware has become more complicated to sell," he said.

Wanted: one-stop VMware shopping
Users also want VMware to strengthen its virtual data center management offerings with closer integration with physical infrastructure elements.

Derek Seaman, the lead systems engineer for government contractor MacAulay Brown Inc., said he hopes to eventually gather detailed statistics on and provision his physical storage disk arrays through vCenter (a feature that is expected with a new set of vStorage APIs early next year), as well as tighter integration among VMware's hypervisor, the physical storage array and the virtual machine operating system.

"Automatic space reclamation [on the physical disk array] when data is deleted within a VMDK [Virtual Machine Disk File] is my No.1 wish-list item [for VMware]," Seaman said.

Meanwhile, in the virtualization management space, competitors continue to make inroads while VMware sorts out integration and roadmaps -- almost the reverse of VMware's position in the hypervisor market, where competitors have to contend with VMware's "head start" in product development.

Adam Baum, an IT architect for the City of Mesa, Ariz., says he's evaluated Akorri's BalancePoint tool, which reports on physical as well as virtual infrastructure with event correlation. "Akorri['s tool] can tell you 'these virtual servers are contending for these data stores'," Baum said. New virtualization management offerings from VMware will have to at least match that, he said.

However, some users also say they're holding out for VMware's response to such offerings, in hopes of keeping purchasing, licensing and support as simple as possible. "One less cog in the equation," said Rob Zelinka, the director of infrastructure for a transportation asset management company.

VMware drops integration hints
Martin Klaus, the group manager for product marketing at VMware, gave some clues as to how VMware classifies its portfolio, as well as its general future direction, in an email to last week.

"It's important to understand that Hyperic, AppSpeed, [and] CapacityIQ are … purpose-built to collect data about specific aspects of the environment," wrote Klaus. "Some use adapters, some rely on packet analysis, etc. In its current form, Integrien … does not monitor applications or infrastructure on its own, but rather processes data provided by underlying monitoring tools."

"Going forward, you'll see further integration among the VMware products from a functional perspective as well as more adapters for third-party monitoring tools, but you'll also see more packages targeted at different market segments," Klaus added.

Whatever VMware's plans, sorting out how overlapping features are supposed to fit into different use cases will remain "horribly complicated" for users, said Bernd Harzog, an analyst at The Virtualization Practice. The different ways virtualization management tools arrive at conclusions and suggestions for troubleshooting -- especially the distinction between deterministic and statistical root-cause analysis -- is critical, he said, but often unrecognized.

Deterministic root-cause analysis, used by products such as CapacityIQ, "provides a solution that is 'certainly correct,' but for a small number of obvious problems," such as a SQL server slowing down because of limited memory, according to Harzog.

By contrast, statistical root-cause analysis, which is used by products such as Alive VM, "offers a 'probably correct' solution to problems that would otherwise require an unmanageable amount of digging to even get to the source." Neither approach is necessarily superior, Harzog said, but it is an important factor to pick the right virtualization management tool for a particular data center.

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

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