Virtual Labs for the Sales Engineer

March 26, 2009

Darrin Mourer writes about his experiences and learning as a sales engineer on his blog. I personally have found some of his posts well written and interesting (read this for instance).

He does also talk about the use of Virtual Labs in the sales engineering process. It is a three part post that was written a while ago. You can read the posts here.

From his blog, here is what is written about virtual labs:

With everyone having access to the same virtual environment, SEs can use this as a launch platform for creating enhanced demos that would not be doable with a laptop. SEs should be able to share these demos with others. Having a standard demo catalog with the best of the best content is a great way to drive additional revenue. SE management/enablement and marketing can also leverage the work that SEs create and incorporate them into the master library. If you really want to get fancy, you can start tracking this in your CRM to statistically determine which demos work better than others. This is all part of building a repeatable sales process.

Some companies use evaluation and proof of concept interchangeably. Sometimes a customer just wants to kick the tires without an SE. Sometimes the customer needs to see the product in action to validate the technical specs and sales presentation. Allowing SEs to build a environment that matches the specific requirement of the customer can be a huge time saver for both sides. It also reduces risk to the opportunity be being able to run the POC in a controlled and familiar environment.

One other very valuable use of this type of platform is as a training aid. Instead of trying to get access to a classroom with a purpose-built set up, or messing around with virtual machines on laptops, you can configure the labs ahead of time, virtually, and allow students to access them through the browser on their laptops. Whereas the demo and proof of concept provide additional revenue opportunity, this is an easy way to demonstrate cost savings to the company.

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Sharing and Collaborating in a Test Lab Environment

March 25, 2009

Virtual lab automation products help you pool your lab resources together to create a central shared infrastructure bed. With this lab infrastructure and artifacts consolidation, your lab users can easily share and collaborate in their work – e.g., sharing software test scripts, sharing multi-machine test/demo/training environment configurations and so on.

This demonstration below shows you how this can be achieved. The benefits I believe are obvious.

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Streamlining Your Access to a Trial Version of VMLogix LabManager

March 20, 2009

Yesterday we streamlined the process for virtual lab prospects to get their hands on a trial copy of VMLogix LabManager. You can go ahead and make a request on our website. It is a brief form which should take less than a minute to complete. Once you register, you will get an account on our virtual portal (to download the bits) and a 30 day license for a fully functional copy of VMLogix LabManager in your email. This previous post may also be useful reading in this context as you prepare to get started with the product (remember you will need VMware ESX for this hassle free trial):

Enjoy the access to a hassle free download!

LabManager free trial registration

LabManager free trial registration

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Debate: Do the benefits justify the costs of vCenter Server, HA, DRS, vMotion in your Software Labs?

March 18, 2009

[Note Added on July 14, 2009: VMware has released their Lab Manager version 4.0 yesterday, where  they support and work with VMware vCenter Server 4.0 and vSphere 4.0. The math and comparisons here are reflective of the previous version of VMware Lab Manager. I’ll retain this table to give readers a ‘historical’ feel for how the costs compare with the 2 solutions.]

VMware Lab Manager requires VMware vCenter Server (previously called VMware Virtual Center). In addition, it requires customers to have VMware Virtual Infrastructure (VI) 3 Standard OR Enterprise editions on the managed virtual hosts to get the benefits of advanced VM management  – like HA (through VI3 Standard) and HA/DRS/vMotion (through VI3 Enterprise). The screen snapshot of VI3 editions found on the VMware website is:

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 Editions

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 Editions (Screen capture from VMware's site at http://www.vmware.com/products/vi/buy.html)

The Question:

For a software virtual lab (say a software testing lab, or a training lab, etc. with a virtual lab management solution) do you really need the advanced management capabilities of HA, DRS and/or vMotion? If so, are you willing to shell the $$ for the enormous cost of the base virtualization infrastructure?

Lets look at the cost comparisons.

Consider a lab deployment of 10 virtual hosts (running VMware virtualization software). Here is how the base virtualization infrastructure costs would compare:

Component VMware Lab Manager with HA, DRS and vMotion support VMware Lab Manager with HA support only VMLogix LabManager
Number of managed virtual hosts in the lab 10 10 10
Bare Hypervisor Requirement (2 proc managed host) 10 * $6,958 = $69,580

Needs VI3 Enterprise, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $3,624 = $36,240

Needs VI3 Standard, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $1,540 = $15,400

Needs only VI3 Foundation, incl. 1 year Gold support

vCenter Server (previously Virtual Center) – site wide license $6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

$6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

No vCenter Server required
Cost of the Base Virtualization Infrastructure = $75,624 = $42,284 = $15,400

In essence, the base virtualization infrastructure may cost you almost 5X with VMware when compared with the requirements for a VMLogix lab management solution.

Lets look at the benefits that VI3 Standard (HA) or Enterprise (with HA/DRS/vMotion) offers.

  • HA: High Availability provides the “automatic restart” of VMs in a failover scenario. Since active running memory maps/stack configurations etc. of the VMs are not preserved, how beneficial is HA really in a test/lab environment? Would it not be possible equivalently for the test engineer/lab user to just restart the VM themselves? HA with its automated capabilities is really more useful in the production virtualized data center deployment, and is being thrust upon the pre-production lab environment.
  • DRS: DRS is available on a host when a user buys VMware VI3 Enterprise. VMLogix LabManager has built in algorithms for intelligent VM placement on hosts. In addition, users can target VMs to a specific host or a group of hosts (pulled together in a pool). In essence, the capability to schedule/balance load across virtual hosts is built into LabManager. From that standpoint, the capabilities of DRS appear moot (or at least questionable for the cost of VI3 Enterprise for the managed host).
  • vMotion: If you are trying to make a case for vMotion for resource balancing OR to free up resources (to make way for maintenance) – note that vMotion and DRS above are available only with VMware VI3 Enterprise. This makes the cost significantly higher – for a lab with 10 hosts, the base infrastructure would cost 5X times the amount it would for a VMLogix solution. If you are attempting to use the vMotion capability during maintenance, you could consider using VMLogix LabManager to target VM deployments to specific hosts (thus freeing the other hosts for maintenance automatically).

What do you think? Is this functionality mandatory in the lab? And more importantly, are you willing to pay the (high) cost for it?

I do believe that HA/DRS and vMotion are useful management functionality (most of us would appreciate the ability to vMotion VMs around easily) — albeit primarily in the virtualized production data center management. They have debatable value in pre-production lab environments. Of course, a lot of us view things with VMware tinted glasses, so the arguments ‘for’ would be much stronger in that case. Regardless, I’m left wondering if the benefits would justify paying such high amounts.

What do you think?

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Comparing Search Trends of Hyper-V, ESX, XenServer

March 12, 2009

Below is a map from Google Trends on the searches that people have been doing for the leading hypervisors. This is a trend view of the past 12 months. Notice that –

  • Citrix observed a nice surge to pull it away once the announcement of the availability of free XenServer was made (Point “F” in the diagram)
  • Hyper-V along with VMware has steadily climbed in the search interest levels. The overall upward trend of these 3 searches indicate to me that virtualization is something that people are still very much interested in, despite of the economic slowdown.

What are your takeaways?

Search trends of popular hypervisors in the market

Search trends of popular hypervisors in the market

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Contrasting the Management of Virtualized Test Lab and Production Environments

March 9, 2009

1. The Context

Virtualization in Pre-Production Labs: Virtualization usually takes its first steps in an organization in the pre-production (software lab) environment. The use of virtualization in dev/test labs continues to be a very popular use case today. I would think that it would still figure in the top three use cases for virtualization, much like how this earlier survey in 2007 indicated. As IT administrators get familiar with the use of virtualization, the technology moves towards being used in the data center environment as well.

Virtualization in Production Data Centers: The big 4 infrastructure management vendors – BMC, IBM, CA and HP have recognized the impact of virtualization in the data center and have been taking initiatives towards managing a hybrid of virtual and physical infrastructure. Alessandro recently suggested that VMware would join the list and become an infrastructure management company as well. Virtualization adoption in the data center is an important development and most IT practitioners believe this to be a fundamental shift in the data center operational dynamics (think of an agile and dynamic data center) that is here to stay.

Hypervisor Commoditization: The adoption of virtualization in the above two pre-production and production arenas has been accelerated by recent industry announcements. With the base hypervisor technology moving towards commoditization – the value value add comes from the accompanying management applications.

2. Contrasting the Management Environments in Pre-Production (Lab) and Production (Data Center) Environments

Given the above widely accepted view that virtualization has significant impact on IT infrastructure operations in the pre-production (lab) and production environments – how do the accompanying management applications in each arena compare? The figure below contrasts the management environments in the two cases.

Comparing Lab Management and Production Management

Comparing Lab Management and Production Management

As the table indicates (see the management goals specifically), there is a fundamental difference between the two environments and therefore there is a need for separate management technologies with different management functionality in the lab and production environments.

3. Specific Benefits of Virtual Lab Automation and Management Applications in Pre-Production (Lab) Scenarios

Pre-production (lab) scenarios bring with it their own set of management challenges which are not addressed by production management applications. Here is a snapshot of the management challenges in the lab for which virtual lab management solutions provide a good solution (and where production management apps fall short):

Lab Management Dimension Why it is needed Product Demonstrations
Web based self service Allow multiple users and teams to share and leverage a common set of shared infrastructure on demand Enabling web based self service
User management Support a large internal constituency of users and teams that need access to lab infrastructure How User Management Helps in Test Lab Operations
Multi-machine management Ability to create, deploy, share and delete multi-machine configurations as a single unit Automating the Creation of a Multi-Machine Test Environment
Rapid changes to VMs and Configurations Easily allow users to create and edit multi machine configurations and VMs Automating the Creation of a Multi-Machine Test Environment
Sharing and Collaboration Allow the many users to share lab artefacts and leverage work done by others (without the need to re-do the effort) How User Management Helps in Test Lab Operations
Network zoning Ability to isolate running configurations so they do not conflict with the same config instance deployed multiple times The Benefit of Network (IP) Zoning in Executing Test Environments
Storage optimizations Optimize the storage occupied by VMs, especially when hundreds of VMs are created by the large internal lab user community The Benefit of Linked Clones in a Dev/Test Environment
Prevent resource hogging Setup policies and quotas for individual users so their usage of the lab remains bounded. Also setup job lease times to prevent a single user’s job occupying all the server capacity for prolonged durations.

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Observations from VMworld Europe 2009

March 3, 2009

I was in Cannes last week for the annual European edition of VMWare’s User conference. I was very pleasantly surprised that VMWorld Europe attracted a very robust attendance that even grew slightly over last year’s numbers. This is ample evidence of the resilience of underlying value propositions driving the growth of virtualization even during dire economic times. This sentiment was echoed in my discussions with executives from several partner companies and vendors on the show floor as well. Confidence in virtualization’s ability to deliver real ROI and cost savings to hundreds of customers worldwide remains high and growing. That said, it was clear most exhibitors were being prudent about their show expenses — many fewer freebies and more muted displays.

Clearly, Citrix garnered tons of press and attendee interest with their cleverly timed announcement of their free hypervisor release. We at VMLogix were excited to be highlighted in that same spotlight last week as well when Citrix announced the availability of Citrix Lab Manager and Stage Manager. Those new offerings are the result of a strategic OEM agreement that Citrix inked with VMLogix in Q4 of 2008. This move reiterates the trend that we have been observing over the past several months  – the hypervisor is being driven towards commoditization and the phenomenal value add is coming in from the myriad of management applications that sit atop that base platform.

The conference hosts VMware made several announcements and partner demonstrations around vCloud and also put the focus on vSphere — their new data center OS platform. VMware who earlier prefixed “v” to all their product names and branding at VMWorld 2008 a few months ago, now seem to be attempting to attach a ‘cloud buzz’ to everything they do going forward. Most of the vendors on the show floor seem to have taken that vCloud marketing theme to heart and one can sense extreme levels of hype and abuse of the term “cloud” in all the marketing materials and displays on the show floor. Everything and everybody regardless of actual relevance to cloud computing had the “cloud” tagline attached to it.

Talking about the cloud, VMware’s cloud announcements and the cloud pavilion were a trifle disappointing and under-whelming. There was very little definition available on key considerations like the vCloud APIs, the service provider business models around vCloud, the pricing, roadmaps and availability were all unclear and poorly communicated if at all to the audience. Many attendees left presentations and seminars with the impression that vCloud was still very nascent … more slideware than real production software.

– Ravi Gururaj

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