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VMware management software for the cloud: A square peg in round hole

Originally, VMware management software was designed for virtualization. Now VMware is carrying over those principles to cloud management. But will it work or stifle cloud adoption?

This series outlines VMware's standing in the evolving cloud computing market, its cloud strategy and the challenges it faces. Part one outlined VMware's road from virtualization to the cloud. This installment covers how VMware management software wasn't designed with cloud computing in mind.

There are several barriers to widespread cloud-computing adoption, and VMware has numerous technological and cultural challenges to overcome. VMware's ownership of the virtualization layer is an advantage, but the company's management software -- such as vCenter and vCloud Director -- may stifle cloud adoption. Both products are vendor-specific and somewhat cumbersome to operate.

 VMware VCenter, for example, wasn't designed for the cloud. Prior to VMware Infrastructure 3, vCenter was an easy-to-use, Windows-based application for point-and-click management. But power users preferred the ESX service console for management tasks. Once VMware tied advanced virtualization features-- such as vMotion, High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler -- it became a necessity.

Despite these additions, vCenter hasn't evolved much since its inception. It's still a single-instance service with a standalone database back end. It lacks built-in availability features, and as a result, it's a single point of failure for mission-critical IT services, such as cloud computing, virtual desktops and disaster recovery.

VMware management software: Hype vs. reality
At public events, it's a VMware tradition to trot out the (slightly modified) "Hotel California" metaphor. Company executives say they're opposed to vendor lock-in and compare competitors' offerings to a hotel where you can check-in anytime you like, but you can never leave.

But there is a yawning gap between VMware's rhetoric and practice. VMware often proclaims that it "eats its own dog food," but it also wants to have its cake and eat it too. In other words: Despite VMware's much-vaunted openness, its core management platform (vCenter) and Infrastructure as a Service (vCloud Director) support only vSphere.

 Stubbornly, VMware does not acknowledge that a hybrid cloud may consist of multiple virtualization platforms. As such, both Microsoft and VMware clouds remain closed and vendor specific.

If you examine cloud management software from other vendors, these providers offer features and functionality similar to VMware's vCloud Director. But vCloud Director's competitors often support Xen and Hyper-V.

This position is philosophically at odds with the cloud's end goal. When a customer logs into a cloud and creates a new VM, the virtualization platform shouldn't matter. Currently, a VMware hybrid cloud consists of public and private clouds that are based only on the vSphere platform. Private cloud customers should be able to blend different virtualization platforms.

VMware management software acquisitions
In recent years, VMware has acknowledged the deficiencies of its management products and acquired other companies to bolster its own product line and features.
But sometimes VMware's vision and product development have outstripped its acquisitions. Case in point: Lab Manager, which is a provisioning and automation tool for temporary virtual machine environments. In 2006, VMware acquired Lab Manager through the Akimbi Systems purchase. But now there's speculation that vCloud Director will replace Lab Manager.

I believe that the cloud and lab management agendas are quite different. Some Lab Manager features are absent from vCD. Nonetheless, VMware will have to work hard to preserve the distinction between both products -- and to shore up its cloud computing management portfolio.


Mike Laverick (VCP) has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualization website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users, and has recently joined as an Editor at Large. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish VMware user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

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