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Management tools for virtualized servers: A look at the options

IT directors may seek that single pane of glass for managing an IT environment, but for now, at least, that seems as unattainable as ever given the added need to manage virtualized servers. A lack of virtualization management tools with visibility into storage resources, for example, is keeping midsized firms running an assortment of management applications, although the major systems management vendors are starting to integrate their products with virtualization management tools.

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Many midmarket companies use multiple tools to manage storage, desktops, servers, networks, databases and security in the physical realm, never mind adding a virtual environment to the mix. Different silos within IT are also accustomed to a given management tool for a Unix, Microsoft or Linux environment, for example.

Moreover, communication among tools that manage physical devices and virtual machines, as well as the resources needed to run the VMs, is often lacking. With storage, for example, IT departments are trying to tie the management tool that comes with a storage area network to the tools that manage a virtual machine to figure out how to manage the storage requirements of a given VM.

"[VMware's] vCenter has a view into the storage and even into the networking, but you still need to use storage management tools to create that storage to present it to a virtual environment," said Mark Bowker, an analyst at The Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. "You can't just un-box a storage management system, turn on the virtualization software and see the storage systems."

Such lack of visibility into storage resources or down into the disk or an application is not being addressed at this point by virtualization vendors, he said.

"Virtualization management tools add transparency into a lot of different pieces of the infrastructure, but at the same time that transparency ends and you still have to go in [with another tool] to provision switches, ports or monitor power supplies or a degraded disk," he said.

EMC is heading in the right direction by integrating its storage resource management tool, ControlCenter, with VMware's management tools. However, there is still no way of knowing what application is running inside the VM, and in turn its storage requirements, Bowker said.

Storage is a management gap pointed out by Felipe Rodriguez, senior network architect at Vitas Healthcare Corp. , a Miami-based hospice care provider. Vitas used VMware Inc. technology to create 450 VMs and then virtualize about 50 desktops for a proof of concept.

"Storage vendors only manage storage, but in a virtual environment everything is meshed," Rodriguez said. "The [virtualization management] tools don't let you see how storage management interrelates with memory utilization in a VM."

But he said he's seeing a new era emerge in which systems management tools and virtualization management vendors have to work together to offer end-to-end management of virtualized servers. Vitas uses VMware technology, but it is also a Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Co. shop. "We still have to depend on HP Insight and [Microsoft System Center] Configuration Manager for the VM side and VMware," he said. "There are integration run wizards to make that possible. … Systems management vendors have no choice. They have to integrate with virtualization vendors."

Extending management to virtualized servers

Virtualization vendors and traditional systems management tool vendors are anteing up to some extent. CA Inc. last month, for example, introduced Spectrum Infrastructure Manager, eHealth Performance Manager and Wily Application Performance Manager, each of which work with VMware's vCenter virtualization management products.

With the combination of these tools, CA claims that IT departments can manage VM performance, isolate faults, do root cause analysis and track VM movement and VM resource utilization.

And in a relationship with HP, VMware vCenter promises to tailor management of its products to HP's ProLiant and BladeSystem servers.

Storage vendors only manage storage, but in a virtual environment everything is meshed.

Felipe Rodriguez, senior network architect, Vitas Healthcare Corp.

Microsoft is also working to integrate its traditional systems management tools such as System Center Configuration Manager and Operations Manager with other systems management vendors' platforms. Operations Manager connects with HP OpenView, for example. One of Microsoft's partners, Engyro Corp., has built connectors between Operations Manager and IBM Tivoli, HP OpenView and CA Unicenter. But on the virtualization front, Microsoft has not made as much progress in integrating Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), its tool for managing both physical and virtual machines, with other systems management tools.

That's not to say that Microsoft is not moving in that direction. The company has a relationship with HP, for example, that enables VMM to be used alongside HP Insight software on ProLiant servers, and HP Server Automation software, and VMM now supports the VMware ESX infrastructure.

For its part, VMware has virtualization management tie-ins with products from BMC Software Inc., HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli and Symantec Corp.

"All you have to do is look at the partner pages of Microsoft and VMware to see just how many [virtualization management] tools are being developed by third parties to work with VMM, vCenter and Hyper-V," said Nelson Ruest, principal at IT consulting firm Resolutions Enterprises Ltd. in Victoria, B.C. "These are companies building directly on the APIs, filling in all sorts of capabilities like storage management, security management, application management and more."

The list does seem endless as far as third-party tools popping up for virtualization management. There is DynamicOps, vKernel, Hyper9, Embotics, Fortisphere and Hyper9. SearchServervirtualization.com has a list of free virtualization and virtualization management tools.

"Everyone claims that their tool provides visibility at different levels; the question is, who provides what and where," Bowker said. "DynamicOps and vKernel are focused on different areas, and if you move into areas like OpenView and Tivoli, that helps with provisioning, but you still need other tools today. … All the glue isn't there yet."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

This was first published in September 2009

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