As VMware kicks off its VMworld conference in San Francisco, the company can take some comfort in its position as the dominant vendor of virtual machine software. But both Microsoft and Red Hat are gaining ground with their respective Hyper-V and KVM virtual machine platforms, while support for the Xen platform remains steady. Meanwhile, Amazon continues to gain momentum in the cloud, leaving IT organizations with trying to figuring out how to manage yet another virtual machine environment that exists outside the internal data center.
That creates a particular challenge: how do you manage all that diversity? Given the disparate nature of the application workloads that run on top of each of those virtual machine platform, some argue there’s simply no practical way of going about integrating the management of diverse virtual machines. Others say that an integrated approach is all but inevitable, because IT organizations can’t keep throwing administrators at a virtual machine problem that is already starting to spiral out of control.
At the VMworld 2012 conference this week, attendees and vendors alike will be trying to come to terms with these issues. For example, Convirture, a provider of a namesake virtualization management application, will announce that it is adding support for VMware alongside the many variants of virtual machines it already supports.
According to Convirture CEO Arsalan Farooq, an IT organization with only one kind of virtual machine platform is an extinct creature: “There no longer is anything such as a VMware or KVM only shop.”
The problem is that, while the number and type of virtual machines that IT organizations have deployed is steadily increasing, the number of administrators working in most IT departments as remained relatively constant. That means the number of “virtual servers” managed by each administrator is fairly high, especially on new server platforms that can typically easily handle 20 or more virtual machines. As an additional challenge, a lot of these virtual machines tend to come and go, which can make it difficult to effectively manage server capacity planning.
Of course, both VMware and Microsoft have made it easier to manage each other’s virtual machine software via their systems management frameworks. But Terry Buchanan, CTO for IT services provider Zycom Technology, suggests there’s a big difference between being able to see a virtual machine from another vendor and actually manage it. What’s going to be needed, he said, is a more robust approach to virtualization lifecycle management: “Because of virtualization sprawl, plus all the dormant virtual machines that people forget about and the dynamic nature of the environment, there is a need for better tools.”
One vendor betting that Buchanan is right is Embotics, a provider of virtualization management software that recently picked up an additional $8.4 million in funding. Embotics CEO Jay Litkey concedes that most virtualization deployments today are fairly homogeneous. By this time next year, he says, data center environments will see a lot more in the way of virtualization diversity: “Once an IT organization gets to over 200 virtual machines they generally start looking for a better way to manage the environment.”
But rather than having expensive dedicated tools for managing each virtual machine environment, Litkey believes that IT organizations will look for tools that allow them to not only see other virtual machines in the environment, but manage them more easily than tools by VMware or Microsoft.
As proof of that concept, Embotics recently upgraded its V-Commander management software to make it easier for IT organizations to logically manage both virtual and physical IT resources from multiple vendors.
Not everyone, however, sees the growing amount of diversity necessarily leading to more management convergence. Jamie Burke, a global IT portfolio executive for platform and storage services for IT service provider CSC, says that not only are use cases for each type of virtual machine environment very different, the management of the virtual machine environment is getting more integrated with the management of the server. In turn, that server is more integrated with the management of storage and network.
As those tasks continue to converge, it’s becoming easier for few administrators to manage more resources. “There’s a lot of Hyper-V use in application development,” Burke said, “but there’s not a lot need to integrate the management of those virtual machines with the virtual machines that are used in the production environment.”
There’s no doubt that the debate over virtualization management is about to get a lot more intense in the months ahead, especially as more organizations become more familiar with orchestration frameworks for managing virtual machines in cloud computing environments such as OpenStack and CloudStack. Clearly, Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, CA Technologies, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and BMC Software (to name a few) all want in on the action. IT organizations will ultimately determine which vendors will prevail.
In the meantime, the one thing that will be made clear at VMworld this week is that there will be no shortage of management options. On the first day of the conference, VMware announced that it would leverage its Nicira acquisition to better help clients build out software-defined networking environments. Expect the company to explain over the next few days how virtualizing networks with those Nicira assets will help it compete with its rivals in the space.
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