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Third-party VM monitoring tools offer alternatives to native vendors

Many admins rely on native tools to monitor VMs, such as Microsoft System Center, but third-party alternatives can offer improved capabilities, such as cost savings and integrations.

When it comes to monitoring VMs, IT administrators' hypervisors and virtualized guest OSes have several tools built in to help monitor VMs. With add-on options from hypervisor vendors and the huge collection of third-party and cloud-based tools on the IT market, VM monitoring becomes a less straightforward path.

Rather than simply comparing several tools, admins should compare native monitoring tools to third-party alternatives that can monitor across different systems, providing improved costs, dashboards and integrations.

There are several VM monitoring tool models, such as in-guest monitoring, hypervisor-based and third party. Many admins tend to choose hypervisor-based native VM monitoring tools, such as Microsoft's System Center 2019 or VMware vRealize Operations 8.0, to observe VM health and performance.

However, these native tools come with limitations, such as the inability to monitor VMs across multiple systems; third-party tools can offer integrated dashboards and reduce costs when monitoring VMs.

The downside of in-guest and hypervisor-based monitoring tools

A key note about in-guest monitoring tools is they are not ideal for providing VM performance statistics. Though these tools report on CPU and memory performance, these values may not be accurate.

Admins can obtain more accurate data through exposure of certain dynamic link libraries made from installed hypervisor-based tools, but it is easier to get this data straight from the hypervisor.

However, what hypervisor-based monitoring tools don't show admins is application specific. These metrics often get captured the best from in-guest monitoring tools. This makes it a case of what components require monitoring and then find the ideal place to collect the data.

Native VM monitoring tool options

The goal to improve VM and hypervisor performance is the driving force behind building VM monitoring tools. Microsoft's System Center 2019 and VMware vRealize Operations 8.0 are popular options among admins, but for those who use Hyper-V, the integration of System Center with Active Directory and Azure lay the foundation for a seamless VM monitoring experience from on premises to the cloud in a single tool set.

Both Microsoft and VMware have VM monitoring products, but they are not the only choices.

System Center also provides Data Protection Manager, Orchestrator and Service Manager, which all bring in PowerShell cmdlets that are the foundation for high-level scripting and automation. Combine this function with the ability to create distributed application diagrams and maps, and System Center becomes a solid choice for Hyper-V systems and the Windows guest OSes they support.

VMware has an extensive set of monitoring abilities available in vCenter, but when admins add on vRealize Operations, they can gain additional capabilities beyond what their hypervisor offers. VRealize Operations starts with admins' on-site hypervisor and integrate with multiple clouds seamlessly. These connections are all built into vCenter, but VMware Cloud on AWS users have access to an exceptionally strong feature set.

Though this is a step up, the vRealize Suite takes admins to the next level of monitoring. The vRealize Suite includes components such as vRealize Operations, Automation, Log Insight and Lifecycle Manager, all of which have extensive access to most of the larger VMware portfolio.

Admins who can tie what they see from an operational standpoint to automation and logging can better record and mitigate issues without direct involvement. This helps admins push their system toward self-healing infrastructure and adopt rapid response times.

Third-party VM monitoring tools overcome native vendors

Both Microsoft and VMware have VM monitoring products, but they are not the only choices. The VM market has a collection of third-party tools that can monitor one or both Microsoft and VMware virtualized systems, along with multiple clouds and application stacks.

There are several reasons why admins would prefer to use third-party tools over native vendor tool sets. Both native and third-party VM monitoring tools pull data through monitoring APIs, so performance collection shouldn't become a deciding factor between choosing a native or third-party tool. The deciding factors should be cost, dashboards and integrations.

Cost savings might seem straightforward, but there are challenges in terms of licensing restrictions and varying costs dependent on licensing agents and quantity. If admins are conscious about cost, monitoring tools can't justify a critical feature to warrant a premium price point over other monitoring tools.

Monitoring tool dashboards come in multiple designs that admins can adjust to their tastes. An admins' final choice should come down to the tool's integration capabilities.

Both VMware and Microsoft are best at monitoring their own systems, but there are limitations when it comes to VMware tools monitoring Microsoft systems and vice versa. It's not that it can't be done, but the results are less than ideal. This use case is where third-party VM monitoring tools shine.

Third-party tools might not be as extensively detailed as hypervisor-based tools, but they can provide sufficient monitoring capabilities. The same outlook goes for monitoring application stacks or other hypervisors.

This leads to a challenge for admins in terms of whether they should select a third-party or native tool, but it really depends on what hypervisor the admins' system uses and how they plan to use third-party tools.

If admins' systems rely heavily on Microsoft technology, System Center should be on their shopping list. Depending on admins' applications, they might or might not require additional third-party monitoring for their application stacks.

If admins are primarily VMware customers, vRealize Suite should be their first choice, though they should keep an eye out for an application monitoring third-party package. If admins run both Microsoft and VMware, there are several third-party tools that provide an ideal balance between hypervisors, such as SolarWinds' Virtualization Manager and Veeam One.

However, admins must keep in mind that these third-party monitoring tools only cover their virtual infrastructure and applications; they still have their physical networks and devices to worry about, which requires another tool.

With this in mind, admins should check whether their third-party network monitoring tools also have the ability to monitor an application stack, all while keeping their chosen vendor tool set.

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