Top 10 virtualization management tools

There are lots of virtualization management tools out there, but which ones are right for your infrastructure? Here are 10 tools data center managers should consider.

Virtualization vendors such as Citrix Systems, Microsoft and VMware deliver great hypervisors, but they don’t often...

provide the most robust virtualization management tools.

Until recently, vendors such as VMware have traditionally focused their development efforts on the core of their products. This left the door open for third-party vendors to develop virtualization management tools that addressed some of the shortcomings in management and usability that existed.

Third-party virtualization management tools
Today there are many third-party vendors that pick up the slack by delivering feature-rich applications. These apps go beyond the basic tools supplied by virtualization vendors and include security, monitoring, reporting, backups and automation. Although many of the best virtualization management tools are expensive, there are also many lower cost and free tools available as well that can help make virtualization management easier.

One big enabler for third-party vendors is the application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that virtualization vendors develop. Third-party vendors can use them to directly integrate with the virtual hosts, virtual machines (VMs) and other components of the virtual environment.VMware, in particular, has lots of APIs, SDKs and toolkits in many areas that vendors can use to develop applications. They include storage and backup integration with its vStorage APIs and security and networking integration with its VMsafe APIs. Vendors,such as Microsoft, have more limited API support, including WMI APIs, but they all are continually adding more APIs as products mature.

But although virtualization vendors have always provided the tools and support for third-party vendors to develop applications, they are now starting to compete with them by adding to their core products some of the virtualization management features that vendors have traditionally addressed.

For example, third-party vendors that provide backup tools for VMware are now having to compete with VMware’s own VMware Data Recovery product, and those that have built security tools are having to compete with VMware’s vShield Zones product that it acquired by purchasing a third-party vendor.

In most cases, though, third-party vendors are better than virtualization vendors at developing virtualization management tools. Consequently, it’s always best to check out third-party tools, which often have more features than those from virtualization vendors.

Let’s take a look at 10 essential virtualization management tools -- in no particular order -- that data center managers should have for their virtual environments.

1. RV Tools from Robware.net (free)
For VMware environments, this handy little free application is written in Microsoft .NET and leverages the VMware SDK’s to collect information from vCenter Servers and ESX/ESXi hosts. It supports both VI3 and vSphere and displays a wide variety of valuable information in a simple row-column spreadsheet-like interface.

You can sort and filter the information this virtualization management product collects. It contains data not found in vCenter Server, such as the number of VMs per core and the number of vCPUs per core on a host. In addition, you can use RVTools to disconnect a VM’s virtual CD-ROM from whatever media it is connected to and update VMware tools on VMs. This application is frequently updated with many new features and is a must-have for any VMware administrator’s toolbox.

2. PowerShell from Microsoft (free)
For VMware ESX/ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V environments, PowerShell is a free extensible command-line shell and associated scripting language developed by Microsoft. This virtualization management tool can be used to help automate common administration tasks and provide information about your Microsoft and VMware environments.

Commonly used in Windows environments, PowerShell can also be used for virtualization management in VMware and Hyper-V environments using special add-on libraries that give PowerShell access to the VMware (PowerCLI) and Hyper-V (PowerShell Cmdlets for Hyper-V) APIs.

PowerShell is fairly easy to install and use, and some great scripts are available for free. If scripting is not for you, GUIs written for PowerShell can make using it even easier.

Quest Software Inc. has developed some free add-ons, including PowerGUI and PowerPacks for VMware and Hyper-V as well as Virtualization EcoShell Initiative for VMware. VMware has also created an application called Onyx that serves as a proxy between the vSphere Client and vCenter Server and translates actions into reusable PowerShell code.

3. Citrix Essentials from Citrix (paid/free)
For Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V environments, Citrix Essentials is an application with separate versions for Hyper-V and XenServer that adds some powerful virtualization management capabilities and features to each. For both versions, it adds features like dynamic provisioning services, stage and lab management, workflow orchestration and StorageLink technology for array integration. For XenServer, it adds a high-availability feature as well and dynamic workload management.

Citrix Essentials is available in two paid editions for Hyper-V and XenServer, Enterprise and Platinum with the Platinum version containing the lab and stage management features. A free edition for Hyper-V has support for StorageLink for storage management and site recovery.

4. vControl from Vizioncore (paid)
VControl is a multi-hypervisor Web-based self-provisioning and VM virtualization management tool for Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESX/ESXi. It’s a Windows application that uses open source software and consists of two components -- a master server and a workflow server.

For VMware environments, vControl tries to replicate some of the functionality of vCenter Server. But unlike vCenter Server, which requires an agent on each host, vControl is agent-less and uses the VMware SDK instead. One really cool feature of this virtualization management tool is the ability to emulate the high-availability (HA) feature of vCenter by setting a failover host and a disaster recovery host to be used in case of a host failure.

The vControl Server periodically polls the VM/host. If the VM is unavailable, vControl restarts it on the designated host. Action packs are available for ESX, vCenter, Hyper-V, XenServer and Solaris that let you perform various VM and host actions, such as creating snapshots, entering and exiting maintenance mode, HA failover and more.

VControl has an easy-to-use Web interface and is great for environments that do not have a vCenter Server for mixed hypervisor environments. The workflow portion of vControl enables administrators to use workflows to manage daily tasks and provision VMs.

5. VMC Management Console from Reflex Systems (paid)
From its roots as a virtualization security product, Reflex VMC has evolved into a complete virtualization management product that provides monitoring, reporting, asset management and automation for the whole VMware environment. Featuring a nice graphical interface, VMC consists of the main management console application with reporting, alerting, event correlation and policy automation.

There are add-on components to VMC that have more virtualization management features and functionality for security (vTrust), monitoring (vWatch) and configuration (vProfile). VMC and its various components provide a single pane of glass for VMware. They allow administrators to visualize connections between VMs and distributed virtual networks that can be extended to the cloud. In addition, the correlation of infrastructure events, security events and performance analysis offer a contextual view of the virtual environment, resulting in faster, more efficient virtualization management, security response and performance.

Check out the next five virtualization management tools in our top-ten list.

This article originally appeared in the Virtual Data Center e-zine.

Next Steps

 Buying virtualization management tools for your enterprise

Dig Deeper on Virtualization vendor comparisons