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Without its ecosystem of tools to ease monitoring and management, a naked hypervisor is a useless beast. These tools are essential, especially as the density of instances increases and manual control ceases to be an option. Tools rarely cross over multiple hypervisors, so each hypervisor requires its own ecosystem.
The hypervisor with the largest market share, VMware ESXi, also has the broadest-reaching hypervisor management software. This makes for an attractive -- though complex -- offering. The training and certification necessary to run this environment requires a large investment of cash and talent, which makes businesses reluctant to change vendors.
Even so, more customers have tried multiple hypervisors and, accordingly, multiple product ecosystems. The reason companies use multiple hypervisors is partially a result of their increased use of cloud computing. Cloud orchestration stacks supersede the proprietary or evolved ecosystems associated with closed source products in favor of an open source offering, such as KVM.
The high cost of VMware also contributes to multiple hypervisor usage, especially if you only need a hypervisor for static uses, such as web servers and databases. With sufficient tool set support, a niche hypervisor or an open source offering can adequately service your environment. Let's look at the ecosystems that surround the top hypervisors.
GUI tools for KVM
Red Hat now plays as large a role in the open source KVM hypervisor as it does in Linux. The company aims to provide support and value with additional software tools. Red Hat purchased Ansible in 2015 to build up its hypervisor management software and deliver better ease of use with automation and configuration tools. Ansible is a playbook-driven modular package.
Red Hat's commercial Ansible Tower software augments this tool set, and it provides a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) for Ansible and an open source equivalent, Semaphore. Red Hat extended Ansible to handle cloud deployments to multiple environments, including Microsoft Azure, VMware and OpenStack.
There are other GUI tools for KVM from a variety of startup companies. Among the most popular are VMmanager, Archipel, Virtualizor and Solus Virtual Manager. WebVirtMgr is an open source GUI. If you consider it a management tool, OpenStack is also KVM-centric. Kimchi, Mist.io, oVirt and Proxmox all have loyal followings.
Google runs a sophisticated KVM environment. Although the company has yet to comment publicly, it might consider copying Microsoft Azure's move to offer a private cloud stack. This would bring even more tool alternatives to the KVM space.
New tools for Xen
Citrix refocused its hypervisor strategy in 2016, placing emphasis on virtual desktops and hyper-converged infrastructure. Xen continues to grow and, since Xen underpins Amazon Web Services, it's the most used hypervisor in the cloud.
Due to years of uncertainty and lower community engineering support, Xen's hypervisor management software isn't as robust as those of other major hypervisors. Accelerite acquired CloudPlatform and CloudPortal Business Manager from Citrix in 2016 to offer orchestration and automation.
Popular Xen GUI management tools include Solus Virtual Manager, Virtualizor and Archipel. Xen Orchestrator is specific to Xen and can handle VMs, servers and pools.
Google runs a high-level Xen environment. Oracle also uses Xen and offers some commercial tools.
Tools for Microsoft Hyper-V
Microsoft uses Hyper-V in both virtual clusters and its Azure cloud offerings. It's the best choice for Windows shops simply because of its level of integration with the Microsoft products around it. When Azure Stack hits general release in early 2018, Microsoft will have a powerful story to compete with OpenStack for the hybrid cloud role -- at least for Microsoft-centric IT.
Hyper-V follows VMware closely in terms of ecosystem, though it's almost all commercial Microsoft-proprietary software. ManageEngine's Application Manager fits a useful niche of performance and health monitoring. The 5nine Manager takes this one step further and both manages and monitors Hyper-V environments; both have excellent GUIs.
Niche tools for VMware
VSphere is the crown jewel of VMware's hypervisor ecosystem. VMware's hypervisor management software is so complete that it leaves little room for startup innovators, but there are some niche products to add to VMware's core offering.
Trilead VM Explorer targets backup and disaster recovery, while OpsCheck validates a configuration prior to using vMotion. RVTools drill down to look at resources from CPUs to snapshots and data stores. These are fairly lightweight in comparison to the Xen or KVM tools, which demonstrate the dominance and control VMware has in its own hypervisor management software.
I've already mentioned a few cross-hypervisor tools, including Solus Virtual Manager, Virtualizor and Archipel. More broadly, Dell Technologies offers Foglight, a product for Hyper-V, VMware and OpenStack that delivers both monitoring and management across Dell infrastructure, including its many storage families.
Finally, China home-grows hypervisors and their ecosystems: Both Huawei and Sangfor have offerings, but these focus solely on the Chinese market.
Hypervisors will evolve with the cloud
Going forward, hypervisor and container management will come from highly automated cloud stacks, with tenants capable of executing a wide variety of policy-controlled actions. As hybrid cloud adoption hits mainstream, this may pull market share from the traditional virtualized server space.
Consider these virtualization management tools for KVM
Tips to manage a heterogeneous hypervisor environment
Beginner's guide to virtualization management tools
Evaluate the TCO of major hypervisors