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When is it worth paying for vSphere management tools?

Third-party vSphere management tools can help with what VMware vCenter lacks, but a company must determine if it's worth the cost.

Most companies start managing their vSphere virtual infrastructure using only VMware vCenter, which allows them to use VMware's advanced features (like Distributed Resource Scheduler and High Availability) and offers centralized management. VMware vCenter centralized management includes performance graphing, reporting, role-based security with Active Directory authentication and more. However, most companies eventually determine that they need additional management capabilities. Deciding whether you need to buy vSphere management tools varies based on your company's needs.

What vCenter lacks

It's no secret that vCenter doesn't do it all. Even VMware says that vSphere admins need more than vCenter. Of course, VMware recommends their vCenter Operations Management Suite and, while it is a great tool, there are numerous third-party options to consider. First, let's consider what vCenter lacks:

  • Advanced performance graphing and reporting (vCenter has custom graphs, but they can be challenging to create, and the lack of pre-built dashboards makes daily monitoring difficult)
  • Capacity management that identifies bottlenecks when they happen and predicts capacity shortfalls before they cause slowdowns
  • What-if analysis that can predict the additional capacity you would gain if you added new resources to the infrastructure. For example, if you doubled the memory on all vSphere hosts, how many additional virtual machines (VMs) could you run?
  • Heterogeneous performance and capacity analysis for data centers using other hypervisors, public clouds and physical servers
  • Correlation of events happening across the data center with performance metrics and capacity shortages
  • Identification of VMs that are either oversized or undersized

While vCenter may provide the basic information needed for management of simple virtual infrastructures, it's typically not adequate for infrastructures that are dynamic and for when you are trying to maximize return on investment by pushing server resources to their limits.

Performance problems, capacity shortages and downtime

Many companies already know that vCenter isn't going to be enough and start looking for additional tools when they are in the design stage of their virtual infrastructure. Other companies run into trouble, and it's only then that they start looking for additional tools. In some cases, companies have a tool, determine it's inadequate and shop for new tools. No matter your case, the top reason that companies purchase additional management tools is when they experience performance problems. In those cases, they might quickly determine that vCenter isn't the ideal tool to solve their immediate problem. They might even feel some frustration because they trusted vCenter to predict their performance problem and prevent their downtime.

Whether or not tools are worth the cost is, of course, a decision that will vary from one company to another. One company might see value in investing in a very costly tool where others will not. Some companies may feel comfortable relying on free, third-party management tools. In fact, many companies don't even know that VMware offers a free edition of vCenter Operations Manager, called Foundation Edition, included with vSphere Essentials Plus and above. Others might be happy just using the free esxtop command-line tool.

When it's worth paying for vSphere management tools

While there are free tools, most companies will eventually choose to spend money on a full-featured vSphere management tool. Those companies might decide it's worth the money for several reasons:

  • They have been hit with downtime or performance slowdowns and have had difficulty troubleshooting those issues with their current tool or with vCenter.
  • They feel "in the dark" when it comes to short- or long-term capacity management or predicting their next capacity bottleneck.
  • They are willing to pay more to do a better job of preventing virtual infrastructure problems before they happen.
  • They want to maximize their virtual infrastructure investment by right-sizing their VMs.
  • They have a heterogeneous virtual infrastructure (such as vSphere and Hyper-V) or are utilizing a public cloud and are looking for a unified management view.

VMware vCenter includes numerous features, but it isn't able to cover everything. Third-party vSphere management tools offer a way to make up for what vCenter lacks, but it is up to the company to determine if the tools are worth it.

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Has your company spent money on vSphere management tools or has it used a free option?