Management take center stage at VMworld

Ahead of its European user conference, VMware unveiled three management tools aimed at controlling "virtual machine sprawl"

VMware unveiled three management tools ahead of VMworld, the European version of its user conference, which officially starts Tuesday.

The company announced Lifecycle Manager, Stage Manager and Site Recovery Manager on Monday, with all three tools playing a specific role in a virtualised enterprise.

Stage Manager takes care of administrative duties, including testing and integration, until a system is put into production. "You can test a new service pack before it's put into production," senior systems engineer at VMware, Robin Prudholm, said.

Then, Lifecycle Manager takes over and is used until it's time for the system to be retired, with the goal of combating "virtual machine sprawl."

"It's really easy to create a new virtual machine and that sometimes leads to a loss of control, especially when you have your IT department in more than one location," Prudholm said.

With Lifecycle Manager, the creation of virtual machines is more tightly controlled.

"Whenever an administrator needs to create a new virtual machine, he heads to a portal and fills out which project the virtual machine is for and how long it's needed. A top-level administrator then approves the creation of the machine. This puts the IT department back in the driver's seat," Prudholm said.

With the last tool, Site Recovery Manager, VMware wants to simplify the recovery of failed systems.

"Site Recovery Manager opens a lot of doors for small and medium-sized companies," Prudholm said.

Traditionally, site recovery has been a very complex and expensive enterprise. But virtualisation can change that, according to VMware.

"In the physical world, the hardware needs to be identical, down to network cards, at both sites. In the virtual world that's not an issue. You can choose any servers you like," Prudholm said. "Testing is also much simpler; you can do it automatically over night and get a report in the morning."

VMware expects to make the tools available by the second quarter. It did not announce prices.

Market researcher IDC gave the launch a thumbs up.

"The products help automate processes which currently consume a lot of manual time or require complex scripting -- in particular Lifecycle Manager should assist IT operations in managing virtual machine sprawl. It will be interesting to see whether this creates opportunities for other ISVs or impairs their business -- for most it should create opportunities," said Chris Ingle, consulting and research director at IDC.

The products are very important for the future of VMware. The battle for virtualisation supremacy is becoming more and more about providing the best and most complete management option, and less about the software.

"The differentiation between the different vendors will be the management tools," research vice-president at Gartner, Philip Dawson, said.

If VMware wants to remain the virtualisation leader, and stay ahead of companies like Microsoft, Sun and Oracle, it has to keep developing management products at a fast pace, Dawson said.

But VMware isn't alone in trying to improve the management of virtualised environments. Late last year Microsoft announced System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

"For customers, there is today a trade-off between the best vitalisation tools and some OS management with VMware and the best OS management and good tools for virtualisation with Microsoft," Dawson said.

But irrespective of the vendor, better management tools are needed. Effective management is still one of the biggest challenges when companies move to a virtualised environment. According to a recent survey by CA, more than half of chief executive officers and IT executives polled say they face challenges related to or are uncertain of the effectiveness of their approach to managing virtual servers.

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