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Top-rated virtualization management tools and priorities

Read up on current top virtualization priorities and management tools. In the lead: performance management, data protection and storage mangement; VMware's own tools and Microsoft Systems Center Operation Manager.

With key areas of virtualization management listed by IT professionals as both pain points and barriers to growth, knowing where to focus your limited resources and choosing the right management tools can be critical success factors. And with hundreds of products and vendors delivering (or claiming to deliver) management capabilities, reviewing them all to determine which tools are worth spending the time and effort to evaluate, is a daunting task.

As part of our recent FOCUS Research Series: Managing the Virtual Environment, we asked IT professionals from an advanced group of virtualization shops about their priorities for implementing virtualization management and their experiences with the management tools they are using, both from VMware and other vendors.

Priorities (virtualization overall and virtualization management in particular)
Performance management ranks consistently high, both as a priority for next virtualization efforts overall and as the top priority in virtualization management specifically. Interestingly, when we look at the tools currently being used, and rated by users, there are very few in the performance management category. So perhaps it is listed as a high priority because most users today are not doing much in the way of performance management, and are looking for the tools to do so?

Data protection and storage management are the next highest priority for virtualization management, although when looking at priorities for next virtualization efforts overall, data protection drops significantly lower. Is this because most shops feel like they have data protection more under control? Considering that backup is listed as the number one pain point for virtualization implementation, this seems unlikely.

What we hear from most users is that they have addressed backup enough to get by, with many taking the easy route of backing up basically the same way they always have, with backup agents in every virtual machine (VM). Roughly 60% of the VMware shops in the study are using VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) , so they have taken some steps to try to improve their virtual backups, but backup continues to be a pain spot for many.

Life cycle management is also a high priority both as a management priority and as a next step. Once again, it is interesting that not a lot of organizations have implemented tools in this arena. Clearly this is one of those issues that is more important for larger organizations, and as the number of VMs increase.

Security comes in next in management priorities, and somewhat higher in overall priorities, yet again, not a lot of product in use yet. With the new VMsafe advanced programming interfaces (APIs), this area is another growth area this year, both for VMware and third-party products.

Curiously, capacity management, which rates as the number three priority for next virtualization efforts overall, somehow comes in fairly low in management priorities. We hear a lot of confusion in this arena, with differing opinions on what is meant by capacity management. Everyone knows Capacity Planner for the initial physical-to-virtual process, but capacity management for more advanced organizations needs to be viewed as an ongoing process, closely tied to performance management, and allowing more sophisticated capabilities such as granular understanding of the resource interdependencies of VMs and vApps. (With unvirtualized x86server utilization running at less than 10% historically, it's not surprising that capacity management for x86 has not been an issue previously).

Using the more complex definition, tools are still maturing and emerging, and most users are just beginning to understand and address these issues in the way that big systems capacity management has been done for decades.

VMware Tools
It is interesting that the areas rates as high priorities and the tools that are listed as most widely used don't seem to overlap much. Is this because the tools used are doing such a great job that users are now focused on other areas? Since most widely used tools are not necessarily the ones with the highest ratings, this seems unlikely.

The top VMware tools in terms of usage are VMware tools that focus on basic management, and the initial steps most shops take to get VMware running as it needs to be in their initial consolidation efforts. Topping the list, as you would expect, is vCenter (Virtual Center), which is both widely used (176 organizations out of 206), and highly rated. Though competitors will throw rocks at numerous aspects of vCenter, the bottom line is, it gets good grades from VMware shops, with 24% saying it exceeds expectations. The only tool to beat that user satisfaction rating is vMotion, with slightly fewer users (155) but 35% saying it exceeds expectations. Clearly VMware management foundation tools are hitting the mark.

The next most widely used VMware tool doesn't fare so well. VMware Consolidated Backup is used by 60% of the organizations in the study, but it shows the highest number of below expectations ratings for any VMware product at 25%. VMware Data Recovery and the new vStorage APIs, which replace VCB for vSphere, address many of the complaints we've heard about VCB, but there are still issues around file-level recovery and lack of vendors supporting the APIs, so this is an area that still needs improvement.

Dynamic Resource Scheduler (DRS) comes next in usage, and does well in user satisfaction, with 25% giving it an "exceeds expectations." LifeCycle Manager is used by a fairly small number (less than 28%), with most users saying it meets expectations, but 15% giving a below expectations rating.

At the time of study, the application performance management B-hive product, acquired this past year, (now AppSpeed), was still not well known, with less than 50 users, mostly saying it meets expectations, with a small number of both exceeds and belows. (We see these scores improving with AppSpeed). Another acquisition, BlueLane, also only had a small number as well, with most saying it meets expectations.

Although desktop virtualization is still in early stages in most shops, there were 58 organizations using some flavor of VMware VDI, with either VMware View or Virtual Desktop Manager VDM). Most users said it meets expectations, with a small but equal number saying exceeding or below expectations. Given the significant new improvements in View 3 and 4 (linked clones, PCoIP to name a few), we expect these ratings to go up significantly going forward.

Third-party tools
Not surprisingly, the most widely used tools from vendors other than VMware (in significantly smaller numbers) come from Microsoft, with Systems Center Operations Manager and Configuration Manager topping the list, used by roughly 50 organizations. Both products are rated mostly as meeting expectations, with four votes to six votes for exceeds expectations and nine votes to 10 votes for below expectations.

Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), the new tool in the Systems Center family which is specific to Hyper-V and VMware management, was used by a little less than 50, with mostly meets expectations ratings, but 6 exceeds (13%) and 13 below expectations (27%). (These ratings were done on VMM R1, and again we would expect much higher numbers with the newly released R2 which includes live migration)

Symantec NetBackup also is being used by a fairly large number (of the third-party tools), with roughly 50 users. Though most give it a meets expectations rating, it has the highest number of below expectations of any of the third party tools, with nine exceeds (18%)and 15 below expectations (30%).

Citrix XenServer management tools are being used by a fairly large group as well of just under 50 organizations. Most say it meets expectations, with an equal number (five) saying exceeds and below expectations (again this was before Citrix Essentials, which added many new capabilities).

In the emerging/startup/new acquisition category, there were a number of products of note, with Vizioncore used by the most users out of this group (Vizioncore was acquired by Quest). Platespin Migrate, Protect and Recon are used by 15 shops to 20 shops. (Platespin was acquired by Novell). Of startups not (yet) acquired, Reflex (started in security and expanded to broader virtualization management), Akorri (started in storage and expanded to broader performance management) and Surgient (life cycle management and a leader in self-service provisioning) are all being used by 10 organizations to 16 organizations. All of these get similar ratings, with the bulk of users saying they meet expectations, and a small number (two to five) giving exceeds and below expectations.

For VMware environments, it is no surprise that VMware management tools are the most widely used and for the most part, very well rated. New tools from VMware continue to roll out to address customer issues, and although they come slower than most users would like, they do come, either through development or acquisition, and are aimed at the top priorities where more advanced users are focusing their next efforts. In addition, there are a number of third-party products (startups and major vendors) gaining acceptance, with a ton of new products and vendors entering this space continuously.

In addition to the vendor products rated in our study and described here, there are now a number of recent improvements in virtualization management capabilities from the Enterprise Systems Management players such a CA, BMC, and Hewlett-Packard. New offerings from these vendors and the other hundred startups will continue to emerge and evolve, offerings a wide variety of options to help you better manage your VMware environment and grown it to the next level and next tier of servers and applications. Watch this space…

For more information on virtualization management pain points, priorities and available management tools to help address them, check out the complete FOCUS Research Series: Managing the Virtual Environment.


Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus. Barb has spent over 30 years in technical, marketing, sales, senior management and industry analyst roles with IBM, StorageTek, Novell, EMA and multiple successful startups. Barb is Virtualization Chair for Interop, Blade Systems Insight and DataCenter Insights, and serves on several advisory boards on virtualization and cloud computing. She has authored hundreds of articles, business and technical white papers and research studies, in addition to her book "Blade Servers and Virtualization."


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