Recognized as a Top 10 IT Operations Blog

September 30, 2008

Yesterday StackSafe published a list of the Top 10 IT Operations blogs based on ratings in Technorati. This Virtual Lab Automation blog from VMLogix was placed at #10. Thank you for the recognition StackSafe team.

The StackSafe blog does a great job by analyzing and commenting on the critical need of maintaining continuous uptime in the data center. By their own ranking token, they should be #6 on that list.

– Srihari Palangala

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Features and functionality in Virtual Lab Automation solutions

September 29, 2008

If you are in the market looking for/educating yourself on virtual lab automation solutions, this post might be useful for you. I’ll spend some time writing about basic capability that you are likely to find in any packaged virtual lab automation solution (i.e., VMLogix LabManager, VMware Lab Manager or Surgient’s Virtual Automation Platform) and also specific unique aspects of the VMLogix solution.

Basic functionality of virtual lab automation solutions

This is a high level list of functionality/capabilities that you will likely find in all virtual lab automation (VLA) platforms.

  • Enabling self-service — All products provide a platform that will enable your lab users with the ability to self-provision and get access to virtual machines bounded by administrator defined policies and quotas
  • Lab administration capabilities
    • Ability to add users to the system and create teams/groups of users, including integration with Active Directory
    • Managing a library of virtual machine templates to be used in the lab
    • Some reports on the lab utilization/usage
    • API access to extend VLA product functionality
  • Working with Multi-machine configurations
    • Allowing users to create and share multi-machine configurations (via a single URL)
    • Network zoning — the ability to fence network configurations so that multiple copies of the configuration can be deployed in parallel without any IP/MAC or Windows SID conflicts
    • Networking configuration support – Products provide the capability to create complex network configurations (public/private networks, multiple NICs per VM etc.)

What differentiates the VMLogix LabManager solution

Over and above the set of functionality that you see above, VMLogix LabManager provides a set of unique and powerful capabilities. I’ll capture only the highlights and essence of the differentiators here. You can register here to learn more about VMLogix LabManager (you will get a lot more details around specific functionality differences and other feature nuances that I will omit here).

  • Support of Multiple Hypervisors – VMLogix LabManager supports all leading hypervisors from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware, including Citrix XenServer 4.2 and Microsoft Hyper-V. In fact, VMLogix is the only VLA solution that lets you keep your lab hypervisor options truly open by supporting such a vast array of hypervisor platform technologies. This support will be maintained and grown over time as other vendors develop and make their hypervisors available.
  • Powerful set of guest VM automation operations – With VMLogix LabManager you can execute automation commands in the guest VMs of a multi-machine configuration. I’ve written in the past about it here and here. Among other things this allows you to bring up a multi-machine config. in a synchronized manner (DB server first, app server next, client in the end type of scenario), set up software stacks in the guest VM automatically (pick up the latest build from a location, deploy the bits, execute the test scripts type of scenario), capture flash movies and snapshots of the running configurations and so on…In fact, there are a set of 20+ operations that are built into the product for ready use. Over and above, the product allows you to create custom operations to meet your specific lab needs. This capability for executing operations in guest VMs makes VMLogix LabManager a compelling proposition for test/dev environments pushing for automation in their operations.
  • License management – VMLogix LabManager provides administrators and lab users with a set of functionality to enable fully auditable license compliance management. I’ve written about this in a previous post here.

Obviously, there are a slew of other functionality and feature specific nuances in VMLogix LabManager that I will not dwell upon over here. This includes flexibility in storage management not offered in other products, optimized storage utilization, advanced user management capabilities including controlling UI functionality access based on user role & persona, working with non-LDAP users/teams, supported install platforms, ready integrations with ALM tools like IBM Rational and so on.

I hope this helps in putting things in perspective as you evaluate Virtual Lab Automation solutions. If there is any other clarification that you need, do not hesitate to drop me a comment here or a note at

[Update]: I have included some videos below.

– Srihari Palangala

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Notes from a couple of conferences – VMworld and Business Technology Summit

September 23, 2008

Like I mentioned in my previous post, we were at VMworld 2008 last week. It was a good experience and the conference was very well organized. I’m sure it was a wonderful learning and immersion experience for the 14,000+ attendees! Here are my key takeaways from the conference (around the specific virtual lab management areas):

  • A good chunk of people were aware of virtual lab automation and its benefits and most of our conversations were around how the VMLogix LabManager product was different from the VMware Lab Manager product (this is always a much easier conversation to have than a ground up education on the technology and benefits)
  • Many people were excited about the fact that we support multiple hypervisors (Citrix, Microsoft and VMware) and that being hypervisor agnostic is a core proposition that we are committed to. Clearly a sign that people do not want to be locked in to any one vendor
  • Guest VM automation capabilities in VMLogix LabManager – and the ability to run operations in guest VMs (such as software installations, executing scripts, running test scripts, uploading logs, capturing a movie etc.) captured a lot of interest among the audience – especially among the software test professionals who stopped by our booth. A lot of people could immediately see how they would benefit from powerful functionality of this nature
  • We demo-ed the LabManager product to dozens of prospects and they were all excited about the simple and easy to use UI and workflows. In fact, we had a customer who had stopped by the booth who volunteered to do a couple of demos to the attendees at the booth! It was a neat moment and gave us a moment of rest as well! Thanks guys!
  • Last week we announced an expansion of the software test and development offerings with the introduction of VMLogix StageManager. You can find more details and sign up for the beta program here. We started seeing early signs of interest and people looking for solutions in this area as well.

As you might be aware, VMLogix is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA and has offices in Toronto, Canada and Bangalore, India. This conference got some of us from these locations together – gave us the opportunity for in person meetings and discussions.

Here are a couple of pictures at our booth:

Customers and prospects at the VMLogix booth

Customers and prospects at the VMLogix booth

Another picture of the VMLogix booth

Another picture of the VMLogix booth

The Business Technology Summit 2008

Today, Ravi and myself attended the Business Technology Summit 2008 in Bangalore. The conference attracted a good audience (a hall with a capacity of around 800 was almost full). Ravi delivered a session on “Virtualization & Software Engineering – Transform Your Lab as a Strategic Asset“. I also listened in on a couple of other sessions including the “Virtualization 360” by Ravi Sankar of Microsoft. It was a good high level overview session.

– Srihari Palangala

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Seven Tips on Virtual Test Lab Automation

September 22, 2008

We are back in the office after attending VMworld 2008 last week. The event was great, and it was a wonderful conference for VMLogix. Will get up a detailed post around this in a couple of days. Stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, you might want to check out the seven tips on virtual test lab automation. This was published by SDTimes last week.

Enjoy your week!

– Srihari Palangala

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Self serve IT enabled in the software lab through virtual lab automation

September 10, 2008

Software engineering teams (e.g., the developer, tester, IT operations engineer) rely on quick and ready access to machines to get their work done. In providing this ready access to software machines and lab infrastructure, here are some of the challenges that system administrators face:

  • Machine (physical or virtual) sprawl. Here is an example of a user being overwhelmed by the number of virtual machines being created.
  • Reducing the delay for users to get access to pristine machines (i.e., machines loaded with the right images and software stacks to conduct tests, for development etc.)
  • Security and user access control for various machines – some machines and configurations need to be locked out of public access. In addition, only specific teams and users should have access to it
  • Controlling and managing the amount of storage resources that each user can access
  • Monitoring and managing the software license use. It has been written about here and here
  • Leveraging existing user databases like LDAP/AD to control user access to virtual machines

Are there other challenges that you see and missing from the list above?

What is the best approach to address these challenges in providing a self serve environment? Do you let each team (dev/test/…) run in silos and just hope for the best in addressing each of the challenges above? Are there any synergies that can be leveraged?

Self serve IT within bounded policies/quotas is a key benefit of virtual lab automation solutions. VLA solutions like VMLogix LabManager provides this self serve IT capability that offers the following:

  • Administrator can setup and control a self serve lab environment
    • The administrator can enable many users and add them all to the lab system. The administrator can leverage existing user database systems like LDAP/AD can be used to authenticate users prior to them using the lab resources. Every user is required to sign-in/authenticate before they get access to the virtual machine/configuration library and other lab assets
    • Every user can get access to the resources and functionality as configured by the administrators. This essentially means that the lab functionality exposed to a user is customizable. For example, user_A can create virtual machines and deploy configurations whereas user_B can only deploy configurations/templates
    • The administrator can configure storage quotas (based on individual users) and leases (for various lab resources) – so no single user can cross bounds of how the lab is meant to be utilized
  • Allow each user to operate without hindrance in the self serve environment
    • Every user can independently deploy configurations on a central set of host resources. In addition, multiple users can deploy the same configuration in parallel without needing to go create the same configuration from scratch (wasting time and storage resources in the process)
    • Every user added to the system can access the lab easily via a web browser
    • Sharing is enabled between the many users and teams. So, a virtual machine with the software stack installed can be captured as a template and shared with other users/teams — that way multiple users do not need to create the template and waste storage space.
User logged in and accessing the lab resources via a browser. Creating a multi machine configuration.

User logged in and accessing the lab resources via a browser. Creating a multi machine configuration.

– Srihari Palangala
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At VMworld next week

September 9, 2008

VMworld 2008 promises to be an exciting event – and Dan Kusnetzky observes that there will be many vendors who will be making exciting announcements around that time.

The VMLogix team will be there as well – booth #759. Do come and see us, you can meet some members of the team, interact with us and watch VMLogix LabManager in live action.

Will look forward to seeing you there!

Srihari Palangala

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Testing in the software lab – bring the field in!

September 4, 2008

Dennis Stevenson has written about Getting Software Development out of the lab.

As a software developer in a previous life, I found the article very interesting and wanted to add some points that came to mind as I read his piece (Btw – the first comment also has a very interesting story to narrate). Dennis’ point is that software tested in the lab is often “very protected” (my interpretation) – and that the real user testing/acceptance testing does not happen. Some thoughts:

  • Beta and GA:: ISVs often release software in beta prior to having a GA version available. The beta is meant to alert the user that there are likely edge cases/kinks in the software that need to be addressed. ISVs normally listen to beta customers very carefully for things to iron out workflow issues, specific configurations, installation problems etc. There are some companies that have products in Beta forever!
    • The field engineering team along with early product adopters can help transform a beta product into a GA (and paying customers). However you need a product manager to build something from scratch/evolve a product roadmap that will generate revenue.
  • Domain Experts and their role in Requirements Specification:: IT service companies, i.e., those that provide software solutions to enterprise customers have business analysts (BA) and domain experts to help those building/integrating software products. The BAs are expected to understand user workflows and expectations and provide this input to the engineering team. Typically BAs have significant work experience in a specific domain (financial/retail/…), so they understand the business in a more holistic manner and not necessarily just some individual workflows.
    • Domain experts play some of the roles of a product manager in the services world.

With technologies like virtual lab automation and products like VMLogix LabManager you can get to a lot more user/field cases than was traditionally possible in test labs. I have written in the past that virtual lab automation may be able to help you make a better decision on when to ship software. The test matrix coverage is significantly better — and you can re-produce a host of field scenarios prior to the beta release. But these are traditional points related to ‘software quality’ (i.e., as a tester you know what needs to be tested).

In Dennis’ context – Virtual lab automation solutions provide an additional benefit – you can let the field team get to the lab via a web browser! They can create and share scenarios, use test environments, templates, use the software, report bugs/issues etc. and be an integral part of the lab. You can get the software out of the lab – through virtual lab automation solutions!

Do you allow the field in your lab? If so, when do you normally allow the field into the lab? And how do you do this?

– Srihari Palangala

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