Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESX Server Impact on Virtual Lab Automation

December 16, 2007

Virtual Lab Automation is one of a handful of important management applications for server virtualization — others being HA (High Availability), DRS (Dynamic Resource Scheduling), Capacity Planning, etc. As more and more of the largest software providers (Oracle and Sun being the most recent) enter the virtualization market, the market fully anticipates further commoditization of the hypervisor. As a result, value is quickly “moving up the stack,” and customer focus is now shifting to those virtualization management applications.

VMware has done quite a nice job of building out its portfolio of management applications, preparing itself for the imminent battle to come. They have accomplished this primarily through acquisition, and smartly picked up Akimbi in June 2006 to address the important Virtual Lab Automation space. Because of VMware’s dominant share in today’s hypervisor market, and the scale of the channel pushing their lab management offering, VMware has made it difficult for best-of-breed vendors like VMLogix and Surgient. The VMware challengers try to educate prospects and customers on the importance of openness/heterogeneity when it comes to support of multiple virtualization platforms. And while this logically makes sense to customers, it often did not redirect their decisions because VMware was the only platform game in town – heterogeneity might matter some day, but customers weren’t sure when.

Until now. It is increasingly obvious that VMware’s 80-90% market share is going to be reduced dramatically over the upcoming 12-24 months. The acquisition of XenSource by Citrix created a formidable competitor and a viable alternative to VMware. And Microsoft’s surprise early announcement (four words you rarely see together in one sentence) of Hyper-V last week should really put the fear of God into Diane’s army.

Now that customers are seeing real competition and alternatives in the virtualization platform market, they are going to rethink their plans in the management application areas – including Virtual Lab Automation. They are not going to want to be locked into VMware (its Lab Manager only works on VMware), and will instead look to open VLA providers who provide broad platform support.

Citrix has already partnered with VMLogix to deliver a compelling virtual lab automation solution with the lowest total cost of ownership to compete with VMware ESX Server and VMware Lab Manager. Although the joint solution is currently in beta, VMLogix is planning to make it available to Citrix customers and channel partners early next year. So anyone who has been holding back on going with Citrix XenServer can finally have a sigh of relief, knowing that they will have access to a leading virtual lab automation solution: Citrix XenServer Enterprise with VMLogix LabManager.

Microsoft is also already working with both Surgient and VMLogix who currently provide support for Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2. Given the strength of partnership both companies have with Microsoft and their commitment , there will be no surprise when both virtual lab management vendors announce official support for Microsoft Hyper-V in 2008.

Finally, we have VMware who continues to dominate the virtualization space, but for how long? With its focus on the data center, the question is, can we expect to see as much innovation from VMware (on VMware Lab Manager) as we have seen from Akimbi (on Akimbi Slingshot) before it was acquired. Time will tell, but VMLogix and Surgient winning customers on VMware’s own platform is a sign that both virtual lab automation vendors have built valuable capabilities that make the decision of going with the same vendor (VMware) for a single solution a sub-optimal one.

In the end, we believe that open and heterogeneous support will win out over closed and proprietary. This is sure to be true, now that it’s clear to customers that there will be more than one provider of virtualization platforms.


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VMware Lab Manager Pricing

December 13, 2007

The only detailed source of information on VMware Lab Manager pricing was published by AccessFlow: http://www.accessflow.com/newsDetails1-012607.php

Here is a summary for A La Carte pricing:

  • VMware Lab Manager Server: $15,000 (Support: $3,150)
  • VMware Lab Manager Agent: $1,000 per 2-CPU (Support: $210)

Apparently, VMware has also started charging a fee per concurrent users as well.


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Importance of Linked Clones in Virtual Lab Management

December 12, 2007

[Update – 1/21/2009 – I have made a new post with a demo of the benefit of Linked clones in dev/test environments]

Linked clones. What are they and why are they important?

In virtualization, linked clones (or light clones) refer to chaining of virtual machine images from a base image to reduce the amount of storage required for snapshots and slight virtual machine variations. VMware has a nice overview of linked clones: http://www.vmware.com/support/ws55/doc/ws_clone_overview.html#wp1028798

Suppose you deploy a 20GB virtual machine image, snapshot it after making 1GB of changes and then share the snapshot with ten colleagues who deploy it. Without linked clones, the entire virtual machine image has to be copied (fully cloned) 10 times, resulting in 210GB of additional storage. Worse, if these images are not run off of central storage then they have to be copied over the network to each virtual machine host. Ouch!

With linked clones, only the new delta disk has to be created any time changes are made. So for the example above, the linked clone chain would look like this for each of the 10 users:

Base Virtual Machine (20GB) > Snapshot (1GB) > New Delta Disk (empty when first deployed)

Benefits of linked clones are the following:

  • Much more efficient usage of storage and network resources
  • Improved productivity because end users do not have to wait for virtual machine images to be copied (deep cloned)

When are linked clones REALLY important?

  • For large virtual machine images shared between multiple users or teams.
  • For configurations consisting of multiple virtual machine images.
  • For virtual lab deployments without shared storage

Which lab management products are known to fully support linked clones?


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Virtualization Platforms Supported by Lab Management Solutions

December 12, 2007

Surgient VQMS:

  • Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2
  • VMware ESX 3.0

VMLogix LabManager:

  • Citrix XenServer (beta)
  • Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2
  • VMware ESX 3.0
  • VMware Server 1.0

VMware Lab Manager

  • VMware ESX 3.0

VMLogix provides the broadest virtualization platform support among leading lab management solutions.


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451 Group Identifies Virtual Lab Automation as a Key Virtualization Subsector

December 12, 2007

The 451 Group identifies test lab automation as a key virtualization technology subsector. According to Rachel Chalmers, the author of the report entitled Virtualization 3: Managing the virtual revolution, public vendors such as BMC, Citrix, HP, Novell, Quest Software, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Symantec are going to start filling gaps in their virtualization portfolios, potentially acquiring some of the startup companies listed below:

3Leaf Systems, Acronis, Akorri, Availigent, Avocent, BladeLogic, Blue Lane Technologies, Cassatt, Catbird, CiRBA, CohesiveFT, CollabNet, Configuresoft, Desktone, DeviceVM, Egenera, eG Innovations, Embotics, Enigmatec, Enomaly, FastScale, Hewlett-Packard, Hyperic, IBM, illumita, InfoVista, InovaWave, Leostream, Marathon Technologies, Mendocino Software, Netuitive, Network Appliance, Nimsoft, Onaro, Pano Logic, PlateSpin, Platform Computing, Qumranet, Reflex Security, RingCube, Scalent Systems, ScienceLogic, SteelEye Technology, Stratavia, Surgient, SWsoft and Parallels, Sychron, ToutVirtual, Univa UD, Veeam Software, Virtual Iron, Virtugo Software, Vizioncore, VMLogix, XDS and Xsigo.


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VMware Lab Manager 2.5.1 Released

December 12, 2007

Quoting from VMTN:

  • More granular user control. Ability for the administrator to allow or disallow users from template usage and actions that can strongly impact shared storage.
  • Improved administrator controls. Administrators can now change ownership of items, direct administrator emails to the appropriate users or email alias, and test SMTP.
  • IP address savings. Ease consumption of IP addresses when fence NATting is not required.
  • Longer template names. Template names can now be more verbose.
  • Improved storage management. Improvements to storage usage reports.
  • Swapping ISO images. Ease installs by allowing ISO images to be swapped faster.
  • All interim patches. Lab Manager 2.5.1 rolls up all interim patch releases, including:
    • Templates are not restricted to 4Gb memory footprint
    • Better handling of ESX and VMFS-3 limitations
    • More scalable LDAP implementation
    • Improved email filtering

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