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Evaluating virtualization management software

Virtualization management software and automation tools come in many different flavors. The best approach for you will depend on performance, scalability and, of course, cost.

Virtualization management software and automation tools operate in a number of ways.

Some virtualization management software is based on agents installed on each virtual machine (VM), while others can leverage the Simple Network Management Protocol -- similar in operation to traditional nonvirtualized tools. But these traditional approaches can have an effect on the performance of each VM.

By comparison, hypervisors can access and collect a considerable array of details, so most virtualization management software will take advantage of the virtualization platform itself.

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"Rather than having all of the VMs collecting their own performance data, which may or may not be accurate, you gather the performance data centrally as part of the management console," said Bob Plankers, technology consultant and blogger for The Lone Sysadmin.

This reduces installation complexity and places the processing burden on the hypervisor rather than the individual VMs.

What to look for in virtualization management software
Experts are quick to point out that the choice of virtualization management software is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and you can implement different tool types to meet specific needs. But mixing tools can diminish the benefit of centralization.

"One of the most desired features is the ability to centralize the information," said Pierre Dorion, data center practice director at Long View Systems Inc., an IT services company in Denver. "Accessing each VM individually using native OS tools is not an option, but the ability to view all VMs from a single dashboard for a given physical host is golden."

Virtualization management software can provide an extensive amount of information for an organization. These tools can create a visual inventory of every VM, produce all manner of reports, set and enforce policies within each VM, track relationships between VMs and track and audit all VM activities. But features like the ability to gather VM performance data stand out, along with the ability to automate backups and create VM images.

Virtualization management software that performs assessments and monitors use is also prized. These tools allow administrators to make informed virtualization decisions and gauge server workloads, which helps minimize costs and align IT to the business.
When it comes to selecting a virtual management or monitoring tool, there are few surprises. The selection criteria usually starts with price and functionality.

"Cost and functionality are probably high on the list, but ease of use cannot be neglected," Dorion said. "Portability is also important, especially if virtualization is used on many operating platforms, such as Windows and diverse Unix platforms."

More virtualization management software considerations
Virtualization management software must absolutely provide support for a heterogeneous environment. Be realistic about the purchase budget and your ability to use the features. You generally don't need all of the features.

It's also important to consider factors like data accessibility and policy implementation. For example, a tool can capture and store millions of data points, but it's useless unless you can readily locate the data points that are actually meaningful to your specific circumstances. So be sure you can control the data that is collected and analyze that data later.

In addition, it's crucial to have management policies in place before implementing a tool.

"If you don't have the policy in place -- with physical machines or virtual -- no tool is going to help you, because your policy is going to break down and your process won't work." Sclafani said.

Don't worry if you can't locate virtualization management software that meets your specific needs. Many vendors provide development tools and APIs that enable organizations to create their own monitoring and management applications tailored for a specific environment or problem not covered by a commercial tool.

About the author
Stephen J. Bigelow, a senior technology writer in the Data Center and Virtualization Group at TechTarget Inc., has more than 15 years of technical writing experience in the PC/ technology industry. He holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, along with CompTIA A+ and Network+ certifications, and has written hundreds of articles and more than 15 feature books on computer troubleshooting, including Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference and Bigelow's PC Hardware Annoyances. Contact him at


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