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Which VMware automation tool works for you?

While automation can help an administrator ward off a host of issues, does the investment make sense for all environments?

While virtualization was meant to eliminate the burden of maintaining physical hardware, most administrators would probably say handling a growing number of virtual assets means their lives have not gotten easier.

The efforts required to deploy, maintain and back up a virtual machine means many IT shops are looking for offerings that can help them wrangle the virtual server herd. VMware recognized this need by releasing vRealize Orchestrator and infusing policy-based functionality, such as VVOLs, in vSphere. As the enthusiasm for the vSphere Web Client has waned, more ambitious admins are constructing their own scripts and using PowerCLI to handle routing tasks from the command line.

SearchVMware reached out to its advisory board members to see what tools they are using and trends they are seeing as their virtual real estate continues to grow.

Amy Manley

Amy Manley

With converged and hyper-converged systems becoming more of a norm, automation has become the next big thing.  Now that more people are talking about automation, I believe upper management is now more likely to invest in it. 

Automation also forces you to standardize and write procedures.  If it's not documented, you are not going to automate the process well. I am grateful for my early exposure to vCenter Orchestrator -- now vRealize Orchestrator (vRO) -- for automating server builds.  Automating not only saves time for an engineer but brings that much needed standardization and quality of service.

Server builds are just the tip of the iceberg of what enterprises can automate. You can go beyond server team services and automate firewall rules, storage and backup schedules.  If it has an API -- if a product doesn't, ditch it! -- then it can be used with the tools of your choice. With automation moving into the mainstream, more tools offer plug-ins and an API that can be called upon.

VMware is doing a great job of bringing vRO to light.  Many customers didn't even realize they had it with their vCenter license. The vRealize Automation (vRA) brings automation opportunities even closer to customers with much more workflows built in. It took a big effort to write a lot of your own workflows with vRO, but vRA which utilizes vRO has a nicer GUI interface to deploy to your private/public or hybrid cloud. 

The VMware community itself has been a great help to me in any of my automation efforts. 

Click here for Amy Manley's contributor page.

Craig Kilborn

Craig KilbornCraig Kilborn

Automation isn't something I have been involved with; our client base is up to around 10,000 users and the cost to automate is prohibitive versus the routine tasks it would mitigate.

Automation requires an investment in time and effort to orchestrate a routine task to remove potential human error and create a sustained, repeatable process. The initial investment has a cost associated to it. The question is does the time saving or justification of removing human risk outweigh the effort required?

For example, if you are deploying a new VM once per week, does it make sense to have a vRealize Automation environment with a self-service catalog to facilitate this? Or are you better off giving rights over a folder or template in a vCenter?

Click herefor Craig Kilborn's contributor page.

Brian Suhr

Brian SuhrBrian Suhr

I would say that within the last year I have seen a large increase in customers starting to work on real projects around automating parts of their environment. Some might be for infrastructure and others might only be doing around VM deployment. But there is some serious momentum with this area now.

In the previous years, we talked a lot about this but saw very little traction. There was good interest but organizations were not really investing in it. From what I see, organizations are not using a single tool. To accomplish more than a single goal they are selecting tools that can be used together to meet their requirements. From a VMware space this is vRealize Orchestrator in conjunction with something like Puppet, Chef or one of the other tools out there. You can't ignore the Microsoft stack if you are a Windows shop as they will be needed in some capacity.

There is still room for VMware and other vendors to continue to mature this space. They can help with education and making the learning curve shorter for getting value out of these tools.

Click here for Brian Suhr's contributor page.

Trevor Pott

Trevor PottTrevor Pott

I use a lot of automation in my shops, but much of it is old school: Cron jobs, scheduled tasks, automated backups, automated snapshots and carefully crafted setups for new operating system deployments, or automated benchmarking and testing.

The problem with so many robots is maintenance. Automation has to be carefully balanced against this requirement so you are not automating things that will place a higher burden of maintenance than the original task. Sometimes, simply having a reminder to do a thing -- renew an SSL certification or domain name, for example -- is a far better idea than coding a script against an API that may be a moving target when you renew every five years.

Puppet is the minimum that VMware needs to buy to start giving us the tools we need to automate our environments. Puppet, LoginVSI and probably Liquidware Labs all come to mind. True automation would combine automation of the OS, the application and the infrastructure. It would be tied to monitoring to create reactive triggers and to Cloud Physics-like predictive analytics to create proactive triggers.

I want to be able to attach a new node to my network and have the robots detect that node, profile it with benchmarks, feed the results into a master database, provision the system with a hypervisor, automatically find the best cluster for that new hardware and redistribute workloads appropriately. If I put enough pieces together from enough companies I can do this today, but it's clunky.

Why should we have to waste our time on infrastructure at all? People at numerous companies collectively have the skills and talent to take "building your own automated cloud" from a tedious and expensive task that needs a room full of PhDs to push-button simple.

The next generation of sys admins is being raised to expect this sort of ease of use in their infrastructure via public cloud computing. If private clouds are to be competitive -- and for political, economic and security reasons they must be so -- we need to advance the state of the art quite a bit.

VMware doesn't have the manpower to build this all internally. The people capable of it keep leaving to start their own startups. This leaves VMware at a crossroads: Pay the fee required to the startups that can bring VMware forward or get left behind by OpenStack as it moves from niche into the mainstream.

Click here for Trevor Pott's contributor page.

Rob Bastiaansen

Rob Bastiaansen

Automation is leaving the area of test and development and is being accepted more and more for production environments.

Long ago, VMware started with Lab Manager to allow test and development teams to manage their own VMs. Since then, VMware has gone a long way with automation with products such as vCloud Director and vRealize Automation -- formerly vCloud Automation Center -- which VMware acquired, along with another great tool, vRealize Orchestrator.
VMware has taken many steps to integrate offerings and link them to other VMware products -- but they are not there yet. VMware needs to make improvements with automation in centralized management, and authentication and authorization management.

For example, VMware should work to develop a central management portal or configuration dashboard that allows administrators to have an easier overview of how the system is configured. Such a central overview would also benefit the security of the entire automation system and the entire virtualization platform.

Click here for Rob Bastiaansen's contributor page.

Next Steps

Is VMware’s vCenter Certificate Automation tool up to par?

Tools and techniques need for VMware automation

Develop an automation strategy that gives back

This was last published in April 2015

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Which functions do you automate in your vSphere environment?
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I think automation is important, but it may depend on just how big your cluster of VMs become.  A small business might not need that ability as frequently.  A larger company might make very good use of it.
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I think I closed the tab too quickly so I'll rewrite.  I think Automation for deployments is highly valuable, however I honestly think this may depend on size of the company.  A smaller business may not get major efficiency out of focusing on that kind of orchestration, where a larger company might get huge dividends.
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