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VMware management strategy comes into focus with new tools

Users are glad to see VMware knitting together products from various acquisitions with new virtualization management tools, though the tools remain works in progress.

VMware’s virtualization management strategy is becoming clearer, users say, with the announcement of three new virtualization management offerings at VMworld Europe today.

The updates to vCenter Operations, as well as new vFabric Application Management and IT Business Management suites, bring together intellectual property from a number of VMware’s previous acquisitions, including Integrien, Ionix, SpringSource and Digital Fuel.

“VMware's messaging around their various acquisitions is definitely coming into sharper focus,” said Jay Weinshenker, owner of Weinshenker Consulting in Austin, Texas. “Some of VMware's acquisitions had people scratching their heads initially, but I've been impressed with how quickly they've managed to start integrating the products into their overall strategy and other offerings.”

But while it’s nice to see VMware stitching together its ever-growing portfolio, Bill Hill, infrastructure IT lead for a Portland, Ore.-based logistics company, remains concerned that it might be stretching itself too thin.

“I think this is starting to leave their core competency quite a bit. I liked their model in the past where they were promoting third parties [through] APIs…that seems to have kind of stopped,” he said.

VMware is also going up against already-established management tools in many user environments. Hill said his company received licensing for vCenter Operations thrown in with another purchase, but he isn’t sure whether they’ll make it into production. The company is already using management tools from SolarWinds and Microsoft.

“We were going down a different path already,” Hill said. “I don’t know if we’ll shift gears and add another ‘single pane of glass.’ There’s a lot of glass out there right now.”

Many of VMware’s competitors, including Microsoft, can also offer something VMware doesn’t: support for heterogeneous hypervisor environments.

“The biggest problem with [vCenter Operations] is that it doesn’t support multiple hypervisors,” said Damion Sandidge, a system engineer for the UCLA Office for Research Information Systems. “Yes, we’re [a VMware shop] right now but that might not be forever, as Microsoft eventually catches up. You never know where we could be a few years down the line.”

Cost is also a concern, even for users who have adopted the tools already. For example, one vCenter Operations user, Gurusimran Khalsa, a systems
group supervisor in the state of New Mexico's human services department, looked into using vCenter Configuration Manager and got a quote for 20 licenses at $50,000.

“If I walked into my boss’s office and said we should get this software, he’d laugh at me and never take me seriously again,” he said. “It’s a valuable piece of software, but unless VMware makes it more affordable, only huge enterprises are going to be looking at it, and they won’t gain as much of a foothold [in this market] as they want.”

VCenter Operations Manager gets a facelift
VCenter Operations Management Suite is set to be released in early 2012. The suite will now come in four new licensing packages:

  • Standard Edition, for SMB and small vSphere environments, includes only vCenter Operations Manager for performance analytics and represents the bottom of the pricing range at $50 per virtual machine (VM).
  • Advanced Edition, for large vSphere environments, includes CapacityIQ.
  • Enterprise Edition, targeted at virtual and cloud infrastructure, now includes Configuration Manager for vSphere and Chargeback Manager.
  • Enterprise Plus Edition contains the same offerings as Enterprise Edition but is meant for heterogeneous environments with integration into third-party management tools.

Previously, vCenter Operations was packaged in three editions: Standard, which included performance analytics, with a limit of one vCenter node and 500 VMs; Advanced, which bundled in VMware’s CapacityIQ capacity planning software and scaled to an unlimited number of VMs; and Enterprise, which did all of the above and added connectors to third-party systems management suites.

“This looks like a major improvement over the old version,” Sandidge said. “Workflow was the biggest problem in the old one, and CapacityIQ was pretty much lacking in the old version.”

The updated tools also now include discovery and mapping of applications. Users can get a basic sense of which applications are running on which hosts and understand the backup and security policies applied to them. This feature is based on IP from Ionix, acquired from EMC in 2009, vCenter and Site Recovery Manager.

Application awareness “is something that we definitely need. Any problems you have usually incur latency at the application layer, and you need to know the relationships between different applications,” said Sandidge. Relying on application teams to keep infrastructure teams up to date on changes to the application layer is a losing proposition in his mind. “It’s easier if you can determine that yourself.”

With this release, VMware is also offering a new vCenter Operations Management Accelerator Service, which is focused on integration of vCenter Operations Manager with third-party tools.

VFabric and vCenter performance products converging
The new vFabric Application Management Suite includes two main offerings, vFabric Application Director and vFabric Application Performance Manager.  Application Director supports the deployment of vFabric Java applications based on the Spring framework onto vCloud Director environments using an automated provisioning process.

Application Performance Manager, which is then used to monitor applications in such environments, bundles together vCenter AppSpeed and vFabric’s tc Insight into a new product called AppInsight, which runs alongside vFabric Hyperic. Both AppSpeed and Hyperic analyze the performance of virtualized applications, and tc Insight measures the performance of the Apache Tomcat server that’s part of the vFabric application deployment suite. The difference between these tools and the new application awareness in vCenter Operations Manager is that the vFabric tools offer a more granular look at the application environment itself, rather than how the application corresponds to the underlying infrastructure.

Eventually, vFabric Application Performance Manager will be condensed further into AppInsight. Customers who have previously bought Hyperic are being “aggressively pushed” to move to the new bundle through pricing promotions, according to Ramin Sayar, vice president of product management for VMware.  Application Director and Application Performance Manager will also support non-Spring-based Java apps, and eventually, non-Java apps down the road, Sayar said.

Once again, heterogeneous support could be a factor in adoption of this tool, especially in its initial release. Hill said he’s interested in the vFabric Application Performance Manager, but his company’s core shipping application is written using the .NET framework.

“Are we going to be an early adopter?” he said. “I doubt it. But I like the potential for what they’re doing in the next releases.”

The vFabric Application Management Suite is slated for a fourth quarter release. Pricing will start at a steep $360 per VM.

Digital Fuel acquisition resurfaces as IT Business Management Suite
VMware IT Business Management Suite is based on the acquisition of Digital Fuel earlier this year and contains three main offerings: IT Finance Manager, IT Service Level Manager and IT Vendor Manager. The Software as a Service product suite is targeted at CIOs and IT directors to assess labor as well as technical costs for applications, SLAs and vendor agreements. Right now, IT Business Management Suite supports vSphere environments, but VMware View virtual desktop environments are on the roadmap, according to Sayar.

UCLA’s Sandidge said that of all the new offerings, this one looks the most interesting for use in his shop. “It would provide upper management metrics around something other than CPU and memory, which they don’t actually care about.”

The IT Business Management Suite is licensed per user and set for release in the fourth quarter.

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

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