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VMware vCenter Operations 5 ships, but will IT shops pay the price?

VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite 5.0 gives customers advanced features, but the price tag has some customers eyeing less expensive options from VKernel and Microsoft.

VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite version 5.0 brings the vendor’s virtualization management strategy into sharper focus, but it also raises questions about the pricing of VMware’s products.

Released yesterday, the software gives users new functionality, including the ability to proactively identify problems in a virtual infrastructure before they happen. But at a list price starting at $50 per virtual machine (VM) for the Standard edition, which ratchets up to $125 per VM for the Advanced edition and $195 per VM for the Enterprise edition, the product is out of reach for many mainstream IT shops.

VMware’s pay-per-use model includes not only vCenter Operations (vCOps) but also vSphere 5, which features vRAM entitlements. This pricing model has been a point of contention with many customers, and it still is, according to attendees at a recent New England VMware User Group meeting.

“Pay per usage is a barrier to adoption, and third-party hypervisors will benefit,” said one IT pro at the meeting who manages just under 10,000 VMs. “In 2012, I think people afraid of the costs of VMware will be evaluating other products.”

Some large IT shops have received vCOps licenses for free. But the free licensing is “so restrictive, you really have to go to the Enterprise version to get value from it,” according to one IT manager from a major quick-service restaurant company based in the Northeast. The Enterprise edition price tag was enough to get this major brand to back away from vCOps and look to VKernel Corp.’s vOperations Suite, instead.

“At $600 per socket, it was ridiculously less expensive” compared to vCenter Operations Management Suite, the IT manager said.

But there are some shops that see enough value in the product to make the hefty investment.

One such company, a large pharmaceutical firm based in the Northeastern U.S., uses vCOps Advanced edition to manage VMs in its European branch offices. The company chose VMware’s software because its numbered health-rating system is easy for branch office managers to use and doesn’t require much training to operate, according to Joachim Heppner, senior manager for the company.

“The cost didn’t seem that [high] compared to some other tools [such as] BMC,” Heppner said. “It didn’t seem out of line.”

Heppner runs VKernel’s less expensive software in other parts of his company, but he considers the dashboard “a little busy.”“You have to kind of figure out where it’s trying to lead you before you get the answer,” he said. “The vCOps story was a little easier to figure out.”

VMware’s response to questions surrounding the pricing model is that “customers generally agree on the value” of vCenter Operations. VMware does not disclose sales information on its products.

VMware sticks to its pricing guns vs. Microsoft
Microsoft’s all-you-can-eat System Center pricing goes up against VMware’s pay-for-consumption model. But even in the face of a pricing war with Microsoft, VMware remains focused on delivering advanced features.

“VMware is…able to reliably and predictably and frequently deliver new functionality,” CEO Paul Maritz said on this week’s VMware earnings call. “In the past, we've been able to turn our crank faster than Microsoft can turn theirs. And we're hoping that…will stand us in good stead in the future.”

Though VMware’s pay-per-use philosophy doesn’t work for all customers, it does benefit some.

Heppner said the per-VM pricing is a “good idea,” particularly for tools such as Site Recovery Manager. “Initially…we had to license all our hosts and it didn’t really make a lot of sense,” he said.

Other products, such as AppSpeed, now part of the vFabric Application Management Suite, also lend themselves to a per-VM licensing model, he said. “That one only worked with certain applications. So it didn’t make any sense to license that per server when the early versions only worked with SQL Server and Web servers.”

Meanwhile, some of VMware’s products are still based on per-CPU licensing. “It makes it pretty difficult, from an IT operations point of view, to figure out. What do I really need and how much is it going to cost me?” In Heppner’s experience, the per-VM model turns out to be cheaper overall.

More VMware products will move toward the per-VM licensing model as they are folded into the vCenter Operations Management Suite. CapacityIQ, for example, is no longer available as a separate product. VMware officials said vCenter Configuration Manager and vCenter Chargeback will eventually follow suit.

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

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