VMware Lab Manager Design Considerations – Additional Points to Bear in Mind

October 6, 2009

Scott Lowe’s blog carried a post on VMware Lab Manager Design Considerations written a couple of days back. As you read through the experiences and “gotchas” in that post, you probably want to bear the following in mind:

  • VMLogix offers a competing product (LabManager) in the virtual lab management area which users can use over private and public clouds. VMLogix is hypervisor agnostic in its virtual lab management and supports Citrix, Microsoft and VMware platforms (no vendor lock-in!). In the public clouds, you can use the VMLogix management capabilities on the Amazon public cloud. So, off the bat you have better platform support.
  • If you are interested in a product shoot-out, you can check our comparison of the VMLogix and VMware products here.
  • As you will see in the comparison table there are a few considerations listed in the VMware blog post that will no longer be “considerations” in a VMLogix deployment. For example, here are a couple (there are others like TCO etc. which I’ll not get in to here):
    • In VMware LM and quoting from the blog post — “Yes, you can set up user IDs in Lab Manager but you CAN NOT create groups.  Groups must be imported into the LM Server from an LDAP server.” VMLogix LabManager does not have a dependency external LDAP systems to create LabManager users/groups
    • In VMware LM and quoting from the blog post — “Lab Manager allows the user to take one (and only one!) snapshot of a configuration.”VMLogix LabManager allows users to capture up to 10 snapshots for any VM. From a usability perspective this is useful when the VM snapshots are to be used in various test environments (vs. recreating the VMs from scratch).

So, if you’re involved in a virtual lab managment deployment – consider evaluating the VMLogix products. If you’re a University, the product is offered at no cost.

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The Cloud Makes Some Software Trials Easy!

July 7, 2009

I was reading this post by Ken Hess – My Midsummer Night’s Dream of A Virtual Lab. In the past, I’ve written about how virtual lab management software can help if you’re considering a virtual lab setup for your customer’s software trials and evaluations. If you’re considering a virtual lab for software trials, check out VMLogix LabManager or LabManager-Cloud Edition.

Here are some relevant points that the author makes:

To give fair assessments of vendor products, I need complete and fully functional copies of those products. Vendors who do supply me with their products never supply the required hardware to go along with them. Often the hardware requirements are very high thus making my use of the product almost impossible. A virtual lab is the only logical answer.

Instead of confusion and frustration, they’ll [customers, VARs, technical writers] experience your software the way you want them to: The correct hardware, the correct installation, the correct first impression.

Don’t assume success, guarantee it by providing those prospective customers with something that will surely close the deal for you: A virtual lab.

A virtual lab is my dream and my hope is that vendors will decide that it’s a good idea and implement it.

I completely agree – there is tremendous value in getting your customer/prospect up and running with your trial software with minimum obstacles and hoops to cross through. After all you want them to get to your product as quickly as possible and spend the time tinkering with the software (vs. spending cycles in waiting for required hardware etc.).

That’s where cloud computing makes a significant difference! Take our newly launched LabManager-Cloud Edition beta – you can get yourself setup with a trial version easily – no need of waiting/procuring hardware, installing software etc. etc. Just spend your time on — well, evaluating and trying out the trial software! (you’ll need an Amazon Web Services account, last I checked it did not take more than a couple of minutes to sign up for one!).

You could also use LabManager-Cloud Edition to power your virtual lab for software trials in the cloud!

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Leveraging Virtual Labs for Software Sales and Demonstrations

June 5, 2009
A Subset of VMLogix LabManager use cases for the software demo virtual lab scenario

A Subset of VMLogix LabManager use cases for the software demo virtual lab scenario

Also see the previous post for the use cases for lab administrators.

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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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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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Accessing Virtual Labs over a WAN

February 23, 2009

Virtual labs are centralized IT infrastructure that multiple users have access to in a policy driven self service manner. Typical use cases of these labs include software dev/test labs, software training labs and pre-sales/customer demo labs. Usually in these cases, users access the lab over a LAN environment (from within the corporate network) – but as the labs are used more extensively in the organization, users find the need to access the lab from outside the corporate network – i.e., over a WAN. For example, in demo and training lab environments a pre-sales engineer accesses the lab setup from outside the corporate network OR students access the training lab from outside the corporate network.

The challenge: When users access the lab over a WAN (from outside a secure corporate network), typically they are expected to install and configure a VPN (Virtual Private Network) client. This might be a difficult task, especially if the lab is a training setup and the external users are students trying to connect to the lab VM (Virtual Machine) to get their work done.

The Solution and Its Benefits: VMLogix LabManager can be configured to allow remote external users to access VM consoles over the WAN through the web browser without the need for a VPN client setup done explicitly (Clarification made on June 2, 2009: Customers usually have a SSL gateway type device to handle the security over the WAN. This integration capability in LabManager does not guarantee the security over the WAN. Instead, when configured in LabManager it allows external end users to access the individual VM consoles in the end user’s web browser directly). The benefit of this solution is that the end user (e.g., the student) does not need to delve into setting up and configuring the VPN client. For the end user, things just work – transparently!

In our experience in head to head evaluations with VMware Lab Manager, we have found multiple customers who have found the above as a significant benefit that is offered by the VMLogix solution (clarification note added on June 2, 2009 – configuring a ultra-VNC repeater module to work with VMLogix LabManager is easy). Naturally, they chose us as the platform for their virtual labs.

Here is a diagrammatic representation of the discussion above.

– Srihari Palangala

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Accessing Virtual Labs Over the WAN (for security over the WAN a SSL type gateway device is recommended)

Accessing Virtual Labs Over the WAN (for security over the WAN a SSL type gateway device is recommended)


The Total Cost of Ownership – VMLogix and VMware Lab Management Solutions

February 5, 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. If you’re curious what’s coming in the next version of VMLogix LabManager, then check this document and this movie.]

Sometimes it is difficult to sift through product dependencies and requirements to understand the true cost of ownership of a solution. Virtual lab management is one such category of solutions. Take for example the pricing and cost comparison between VMware and VMLogix solutions. You will find that VMLogix is a significantly lower priced alternative and one that has been beating VMware at the awards! How often have you come across solutions that are cheaper and better recognized in the industry?

What the comparison table below tells me is that for every 2 proc. managed host, you need to spend at least $2000 more and at least $6000 more for vCenter Server across the entire deployment for a VMware virtual lab management solution.

[Updated March 17, 2009]

If you look at the VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 costs on the VMware website (http://www.vmware.com/products/vi/buy.html) here is what you will find:

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 SKUs and Costs

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

Notice that only HA is available with VMware Virtual Infrastructure Standard. For vMotion and DRS, you need to buy Virtual Infrastructure Enterprise.

In light of this requirement, the comparison of the base cost for a 10 virtual host lab between VMware and VMLogix lab management solutions is provided below. Notice that for a 10 virtual host lab, the VMware solution requires base virtualization software infrastructure that is 5X more expensive. Can you justify that staggering cost difference to your company management in this environment?

By the way, you may find this previous post interesting reading as well – how VMLogix LabManager compares with VMware Lab Manager.

I’m therefore not surprised that customers are not very happy about this, as they sift through and really understand the dependencies!

– Srihari Palangala

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Here is how we view the costs between the two products stack up (I’m comparing the basic virtualization requirements in each case – the factors that really make the difference in the TCO calculation. This is cost comparison for a 10 virtual host lab):

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

Need VI3 Enterprise, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $3,624 = $36,240

Need VI3 Standard, incl. 1 year Gold support

10 * $1,540 = $15,400

Needs only VI3 Foundation, incl. 1 year Gold support

vCenter Server $6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

$6,044

Incl. 1 year Gold support

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