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Where VMware's vFabric Suite stacks up in cloud application services

VMware's vFabric Suite for cloud applications is a departure from the virtualization giant's bread-and-butter vSphere and related tools. Do you need it?

VMware virtualization started out as a way to use data centers and physical resources more efficiently. Today, the most important role of IT is to deliver applications and improve critical app performance, and VMware is making a push to keep up with those demands. Its vFabric suite cloud application platform came together from its SpringSource and Hyperic buy in 2009 and its GemStone buy in 2010, along with internal development work.

The push toward cloud has made that app delivery mission extremely important. Cloud computing administrators work with powerful applications that often are mission-critical to their organization. These multi-tier applications come with complex deployment architectures and installation dependencies, and rely on a virtual infrastructure to function.

Here, you'll find some commonly asked questions about the newest version of VMware's vFabric suite.

1. What's new in vFabric Suite 5.1?

VFabric Suite 5.1 brings several new features. VMware vFabric Application Director lets application architects drag and drop virtual machine (VM) templates and application components together to design and provision applications for any cloud infrastructure. Debuting in vFabric Suite 5.1 is vFabric Postgres, a relational database, and vFabric Application Director, which together comprise the missing piece that some analysts say makes vFabric a viable product bundle for application developers. To access these pieces, users will have to purchase vFabric Suite Advanced Edition, at a $1,000-per-VM premium over the Standard Edition.

VMware vFabric App Director and other vFabric Suite products are part of VMware's cloud offering. Application Director works in tandem with VMware Cloud Applications Marketplace, where application templates developed on Application Director can be distributed, and vFabric Application Performance Manager, where application admins can monitor performance.

In the custom application development arena, VMware's vFabric tools are up against Amazon Web Services' CloudFormation, IBM Workload Deployer, RightScale products and other options. The appeal for VMware's cloud customers is integration with already-established enterprise vSphere and vCloud deployments, as well as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Application release automation products are also available from UrbanCode, Nolio and BMC.

2. Why is VMware focusing on cloud application development?

Virtualization and its management drove VMware's success and product development for many years. As cloud computing came into the picture, VMware needed a way to apply its resource management technologies to changing IT infrastructures.

Still, cloud application provisioning tools serve a different purpose than the majority of VMware products, and the company has conglomerated its vFabric, Cloud Foundry and Cetas organizations with parent company EMC's Greenplum and Pivotal Labs organizations to form "the Pivotal Initiative," which is billed as a virtual organization. Grouping these cloud application and big data products recognizes that the vFabric customer and the vSphere ESXi customer are not necessarily the same person.

CEO Pat Gelsinger has announced that VMware's priorities in 2013 and beyond revolve around three areas for growth: the software-defined data center, the hybrid cloud and end-user computing. However, analysts have questioned whether the Pivotal Initiative is shoring up VMware's cloud offering or confusing it.

3. How does the vFabric Suite work with VMware vSphere and vCloud Director?

VFabric products are VMware's way to parlay its product knowledge from virtualization infrastructure into cloud application development and maintenance. They are sold as part of the vCloud Suite, which also includes vCloud Connector and vCenter Operations Management Suite. VMware vFabric Application Director allows application developers to standardize application deployments on various cloud services, such as apps residing on a vSphere private cloud, or hybrid cloud deployments where a vSphere-based application can cloud burst to a public cloud domain such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Enterprises using a vCloud private cloud should evaluate vFabric App Director, as should application developers that are connected to a vCloud service provider or Amazon cloud.

VFabric Data Director moves self-service applications from the server infrastructure layer, where vCloud Director works, to the application level. Data Director can support standardized database templates with vSphere integration for features like High Availability. It can run on VMware Cloud Foundry in the public cloud, but was designed for private cloud use.

4. How do vFabric Application Performance Manager and vCenter Operations Manager differ?

VMware's management portion of the vFabric Suite, namely Application Performance Manager, studies the performance of apps deployed via Application Director. It monitors the application environment, whereas vCenter Operations Manager tracks how the underlying infrastructure performs for the app.

5. How does vFabric compare to Cloud Foundry?

VFabric Suite can be complementary and competitive to VMware's Cloud Foundry open-source Platform as a Service, particularly the Micro Cloud instance of Cloud Foundry that operates on a development tool, such as VMware Fusion or Workstation. Micro Cloud is a way to create application images in test and development. VFabric technologies run on virtual servers in the data center, using application services from Cloud Foundry. Micro Cloud application images can move to Cloud Foundry to scale up, but cannot scale to multiple instances on Micro Cloud, as they can on vFabric.

Plugins allow the Cloud Foundry and vFabric Suite platforms to work together, but vFabric has seen deeper integration with vSphere than with Cloud Foundry.

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