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VMware vCloud Director trumped by Embotics at U.K. university

Aston University chose Embotics’ V-Commander over VMware vCloud Director because it was more affordable and easier to set up, and to avoid being locked in with VMware.

One British university has gone with a virtualization automation and orchestration tool from Embotics Corp. over VMware vCloud Director, citing Embotics’ affordability and manageability.

Aston University, located in Birmingham, England, is a midsized university with about 9,500 students. The university’s central Information Systems department manages a small cloud of 16 vSphere 4.1 hosts running about 250 virtual machines (VMs), which are charged back to the specific departments that use them.

The introduction of cloud and chargeback in 2009 added some complexity to the university's processes, said Steve Goodman, senior server engineer for Aston's Information Systems.

“As that grew and we had more customers who preferred to buy virtual machines through our cloud service rather than buying physical servers, the ongoing management of billing them was a paper-based process backed up by spreadsheets,” Goodman said. “It was becoming quite a burden to manage that.”

Last year, the university went looking for a product to handle capacity and performance management, as well as automated chargeback. Goodman said the university evaluated several products, including VMware’s vCloud Director, but settled on Embotics’ V-Commander 4.0 following an extended trial.

VCloud Director was too costly, said Goodman. Compared with the vCloud Director pricing of $3,750 per 25-VM licensing pack, Aston was able to get V-Commander for roughly the price of one ESX host, around $16,000 U.S.

More importantly, Goodman said, vCloud Director “is a product which in my point of view ties you in to VMware, which isn’t necessarily what we want.” In fact, chief on his wish list for V-Commander is the ability to support Hyper-V as well as VMware’s hypervisor. “[End users] don’t have to know what the underlying platform is. As long as it works they’ll be happy, especially if we can reduce the costs as well.”

An Embotics spokesperson said Hyper-V support is in the company’s long-term plan.

V-Commander 4.0: Workflow automation, quick provisioning
V-Commander 4.0, due for general availability later this month, adds several features to round out its virtualization orchestration and automation capabilities.

V-Commander has had self-service provisioning capabilities since version 3.7, introduced last August at VMworld, but version 4.0 adds the ability to perform requests for changes to particular VMs or IT services such as memory CPU and disk changes as well as decommissioning. With version 4.0, IT departments can also publish a service catalog of standardized templates.

Once a VM is requested from the self-service portal, a new feature called Rapid Provisioning pre-populates a set of provisioning wizards based on the end user’s requests on a Web form. Rapid Provisioning can also use V-Commander’s capacity and performance monitoring features to place new VMs within the infrastructure. Finally, V-Commander 4.0 allows users to create configurable workflows for administrative approvals of IT services requests and change requests.

Goodman said his department has only recently upgraded to version 4.0.

“The feature we were most interested in was the automation of the provisioning and the service catalog. Instead of providing a Web-based document that says what we provide, we can move all our VM templates into a catalog, the users can select them, and the provisioning process is simple,” he said. 

With a small IT staff serving dozens of departments and thousands of students, Goodman said the Embotics product’s time savings and efficiency also drew the university’s interest. “The value really comes from time savings for the team, because we don’t have to do that [manual provisioning] work.”

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

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