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Microsoft, VMware slug it out on virtual management

VMware answers Microsoft's virtual management news with a wave of its own new management tools. One expert compares the two.

Virtualization management appears to be the latest battleground, at least as far as Microsoft is concerned.

Throughout Microsoft's recent Management Summit 2008, company executives were quick to point out what they perceived as gaps in VMware Inc.'s management strategy -- a weak spot where Microsoft can capitalize.

A beta for Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008, introduced at the event,

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supports both VMware ESX and Hyper-V and the management of both physical and virtual IT environments through integration with its systems management line of products -- capabilities that Microsoft claims VMware does not have.

Microsoft may need to do its homework, however, when suggesting that VMware does not have the ability to manage both physical and virtual machines, said Nelson Ruest, a principal at Resolution Enterprises, a Victoria, Canada, consulting firm.

VMware can turn virtual machines and physical servers on and off as needed, for example. As far as management tools, VMware has policy-based workload management and monitoring capabilities for virtual and physical workloads.

VMware also has centralized management through VirtualCenter that can provision and manage virtual servers from a central console, said Ruest, adding that Microsoft's virtual machine management product won't be out for some time.

"One thing you have to look at is that VMM won't even be available until Hyper-V comes out [this summer], while VMware has a more complete management portfolio [already]," Ruest said.

Basic differences, so far

VMware offers administrators the same user interface across its product line to manage basic to enterprise-level installations. By comparison, the Microsoft Virtual Server interface differs from Hyper-V, and Hyper-V has a different interface than VMM. Also, the descriptive terms differ between products.

"Hyper-V calls creating a virtual snapshot of a virtual machine 'snapshot,' while that same capability in VMM is called 'checkpoint,'" Ruest said. "Why should people have to relearn everything when they change tools?"

For that matter, Ruest questions why IT shops have to use multiple tools to manage multiple hypervisors. IT shops should be looking at hypervisor agnostic tools that can manage multiple hypervisors such as Citrix Systems Inc. XenServer, VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V, and he argues that virtual and physical machines should be kept separate and managed independently.

For one, there is a risk of a virtual machine corrupting a physical server. He has also found that in large companies, physical environments are managed by one IT group that uses its own set of tools and another group that manages the virtual environment with another set of tools.

Ruest has been testing VMware products and more recently Hyper-V.

[VMM] is a nice product, but
it's still missing things like [Distributed Resource Scheduler] that VMware has.

-- Christopher Foote, systems engineer, Scientific Games,
He said Hyper-V was easy to install and runs well, and he said he believes that there are many IT shops out there not using VMware today will be using Hyper-V tomorrow.

Microsoft's VMM 2008 beta supports Hyper-V as well as ESX, and through support for ESX is able to offer live migration capabilities via VMM. On its own, however, VMM has what Microsoft calls quick migration; you have to shut machines down to move things around versus no user disruptions with a live migration capability.

Over time, Microsoft said it plans to have its own live migration capabilities. Still it's a capability that IT administrators would like to see built into VMM 2008, and it's not the only one.

"[VMM] is a nice product, but it's still missing things like [Distributed Resource Scheduler] that VMware has," said Christopher Foote, systems engineer with Scientific Games in Atlanta. "VMM has new clustering and migration features, but I don't think it's the same as what you can do with DRS."

VMware's DRS monitors resources being used by virtual machines and reallocates resources on an as-needed based on policies set by the administrator.

Microsoft's answer to DRM will be another VMM 2008 feature called Performance and Resource Optimization [PRO], which works in conjunction with Microsoft's server management product Operations Manager 2007 and Hyper-V. The feature lets IT administrators launch virtual machines, monitor performance and shift resources as needed between virtual machines.

VMware bucks up its management tools

VMware also added to its management capabilities with a new set of tools this week called Lifecycle Manager, Lab Manager, Stage Manager and Site Recovery.

LifeCycle Manager lets IT administrators follow the life of a virtual machine from the point of deployment through retirement. Lab Manager puts some of the power in the hands of end users with the ability to self-provision virtual machines, and Stage Manager helps IT shops transition applications to a virtual environment from testing and staging to ongoing change and update management.

Site Recovery manages disaster recovery configuration and testing.

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