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Upgraded vSphere web client fails to fix old complaints

As more IT vendors move to web-based management consoles, administrators are often forced to navigate a complex maze of browser requirements.

LAS VEGAS – VMware's solution to performance problems that have plagued the vSphere Web Client is a new HTML5-based GUI – but customers say they're still stuck in "browser hell."

VMware has warned customers for many years that its long-term goal is to phase out the Windows-based vSphere client – sometimes called the C# or fat client – in favor of a browser-based version. However, customers have long complained about the Flash-based web client's sluggish performance, and some say they've even delayed upgrading for fear of losing the C# client. In response, VMware delayed its original timeline and developed another web client based on HTML5. The company finally made good on its promise to eliminate the C# client in vSphere 6.5, which was updated in July.

Customers  who’ve  tried the new HTML5 vSphere Client generally offered favorable reviews at VMworld 2017 here this week.

"There's a big jump in performance with HTML5," said Anthony Humes, a LAN technician at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis. "It has most of the day-to-day stuff that I need without the Flash lag."

However, several VMware customers expressed concern that the lack of an installable client could add to their frustration. This problem is not exclusive to VMware – it's inherent with the proliferation of web-based clients from IT vendors, especially when vendors anticipate customers will use a specific version of a browser, said Michael Herrett, senior systems administrator at The Greenbrier Companies, an Oregon-based manufacturing company.

"There's a specific category of my job that I call browser hell," he said. "I log in somewhere only to find I can't complete the action I wanted to, so I have to spend [time] trying to figure out what version of Java I need, what browser I have to use, or what certificate I need in order to make this work today. And it changes all the time. It's a constant frustration."

The problem gets worse as more vendors turn to browser-based management tools. Herrett said he still uses the C# client with vSphere 6.0 and won't yet upgrade to 6.5 today. While the C# client must be installed at every potential workstation, it's easier than tracking browser requirements, he said.

"I have seven different desktop clients that I connect from and the browser could be different on all of them," Herrett said.

Other vSphere customers are concerned that the need for a browser to administer vSphere makes them depend on a third party application – the browser itself – over which they have no control.

Today, the HTML5-based vSphere client supports Internet Explorer version 11.0.96 and later, Microsoft Edge version 38 and later, Google Chrome version 50 and later, and Mozilla Firefox version 45 and later.

VMware would not disclose its timeframe for its next vSphere release. The company did say its next version of vSphere would be the last to support the Flash-based web client – leaving the HTML5 vSphere Client as the sole management GUI going forward. The next version will also be the last to support the Windows-based vCenter Server, as VMware tries to move customers to the vCenter appliance.

As VMware adds features, it hasn't always updated its multiple vSphere clients at the same pace. This means customers must sometimes switch to another client to access certain administrative functions. VMware maintains an extensive list of these unsupported features. To manage VM profiles, for example, customers must turn to either the C# client or the Flash-based web client. According to VMware, the HTML5 vSphere Client is currently at 90% feature parity with the C# client and the company expects it to reach 100% by the next vSphere release.

One customer who declined to be identified raised the issue in a VMworld session.

“Right now we have to use three different clients to do our job," he told a VMware representative. “You have to fix that."

VMware executives said the company would improve the HTML5 vSphere Client in future releases. They did not offer answers for how customers should deal with browser compatibility problems.

"You talk with other administrators or look at online chats and you can see a lot of people are struggling with this,"Herrett said.  "But then I come to these events and they seem not to know that."

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