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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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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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

VMLogix LabManager Beats VMware at the Awards

January 27, 2009

We have consistently believed in the best-in-class virtual lab management offering from VMLogix (we got the ServerWatch.com 2008 Product Excellence Award mid last year) – we’re thrilled that late last week the product received another industry recognition validating our belief.

LabManager 2008 Product of the Year (SearchServerVirtualization)

LabManager 2008 Product of the Year (SearchServerVirtualization)

We’re proud to announce that SearchServerVirtualization.com has announced the winners of its second annual Product of the Year awards – and VMLogix LabManager 3.6 has won the GOLD award. You can read the full article here. Here is a brief excerpt from that article:

Lab Management and Workflow Automation category
Of all the products nominated in the Virtual Lab Management category, on the market judges admired the breadth of hypervisor support offered by VMLogix LabManager 3.6, and gave it the Gold award. VMware vCenter Lab Manager 3.0 took home the Silver award, thanks to sophisticated management features that help quality assurance engineers rapidly build out test environments while conserving resources.

If you have not checked it out already – do read about how VMLogix LabManager compares with VMware’s Lab Manager.

If you are interested in trying out the VMLogix product – you can request for a free evaluation here.

– Srihari Palangala

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Reigning in and Arresting VM sprawl in your Test Environments

December 8, 2008

In my previous post I talked about “When Creating Test Environments Can Get out of Hand“. VM sprawl is a well known and often discussed problem in the production side of the data center. However, it is an equally important problem when virtualization is used in pre-production, like in dev/test environment creation. Letting VM creations go out of hand in pre-production can result in – resource hogging, an increase in operational costs, difficulty in tracking software licenses and VM creations and a problem during compliance/audit checks. Read my previous post for a full description and an analysis on when you might be at risk with the VM sprawl problem.

Here is an example of a user facing difficulty with the VM sprawl problem.

So, what is the solution to reign in and arrest VM sprawl in the pre-production side of the data center?

Virtual Lab Automation and Lab Management

If you are looking to control VM sprawl in your dev/test environments (or other non-production environments like /support/pre-sales/training) you should consider looking at virtual lab automation (VLA) and management solutions available in the market. VMware has a solution available (VMware Lab Manager), Surgient (Virtual Application Platform) has platform available and so does VMLogix (VMLogix LabManager). You can find the key differentiators between VMware Lab Manager and VMLogix LabManager here.

Using Virtual Lab Automation to Arrest VM Sprawl

Using Virtual Lab Automation to Arrest VM Sprawl

How does VMLogix LabManager help control VM sprawl in your Pre-Production Environments?

VMLogix LabManager is a management application that allows you to leverage virtualization to consolidate and automate the lab IT infrastructure. You can view videos of the product here. The product provides the following specific management capabilities that helps reign in VM sprawl in your test environment creation:

  • Centralized Management System: VLA centralizes your software lab infrastructure and provides users easy access to it through a web browser interface. This includes access to the library of VM templates, the deployed VMs, the virtual hosts, storage etc. Centralized management provides a clear view of resource availability and utilization levels. Users from multiple groups in the organization and/or from multiple geographic locations can also access and use the same shared infrastructure (without going and spawning off their own copies of VMs and configurations).
  • Control VM sprawl across Hypervisors: VMLogix LabManager is hypervisor agnostic (Citrix, Microsoft and VMware platforms) and supports the management of VMs and configurations created across multiple hypervisors. It provides you with a single pane of glass view into managing VMs across multiple hypervisors.
  • Monitor Resource Utilization: LabManager can help you track lab resource utilization and add additional virtual host capacity to the central pool only when you know it is required based on historical usage data. This capability ensures that the central pool of hosts are capable of handling the required user load and does not require users to run VMs on their local machines for want of compute power.
  • Prevent Resource Hogging: As an administrator you can set user policies and quotas – to control storage utilization and resource hogging deployments. User configurations can have deployment leases setup to free up resources when it is no longer being actively utilized in a deployment. When resources are freed up in a timely manner, then the shared infrastructure can be put to use effectively for the entire lab user base.
  • Control Sprawl By Avoiding VM duplications: Your lab users can share and collaborate with the lab artifacts (such as VM templates) — that way, users avoid re-work creating their “own copies” of a VM template and thereby reducing sprawl.
  • Lab Operational Transparency and Self-Service Access: Your lab users know the exact lab resources available and can request lab infrastructure on demand in a self serve manner. This provides individual users the required ease of use, transparency and speed of resource access while administrators maintain overall control of the lab.

If you are looking to effectively use virtualization in your pre-production environments and do not want to be bogged down by management problems resulting from VM sprawl, you should evaluate the VLA solutions in the market. VMLogix has a 30 day free evaluation which you can request here.

– Srihari Palangala

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Getting by with desktop virtualization for your testing needs? Here is what you are missing

November 6, 2008

All major virtualization platform vendors offer a cheap (some even free) solution that allow you to run multiple virtual machines on your desktop. Examples include VMware Workstation, Microsoft Virtual PC and Sun’s VirtualBox.

While desktop virtualization products offer a ‘quick and dirty’ solution for some testing infrastructure needs, they fall short when virtualization is to be truly leveraged across the software labs. [Side note — I have also written about why only a basic hypervisor alone is not sufficient for lab requirements in the past].

If you are currently getting by with desktop virtualization for your testing needs, maybe it is time for you to start looking at centralized virtual lab automation solutions. Virtual lab automation (VLA) solutions such as VMLogix LabManager and VMware Lab Manager are management systems by which recurrent labor-intensive manual tasks necessary in test and development labs can be automated and by which test and development lab processes and infrastructure can be streamlined and centrally managed.

Here are the key benefits of implementing a centralized virtual lab infrastructure instead of relying on individual desktop virtualization solutions:

Virtual lab automation solutions and desktop virtualization

Virtual lab automation solutions and desktop virtualization

Shared Infrastructure

  • Allow all your lab users to leverage the central library of templates and other lab artefacts (scripts, licenses, software etc.). Save your lab users’ time and avoid re-work
  • All infrastructure (hosts, storage, user access) is managed by the lab admin; users can access the lab in a self serve manner and focus on the testing
  • Collaboration – VLA enables the sharing of multi-machine configurations and other lab artefacts among users/teams making it easy to drive synergies in the software engineering efforts
  • Expand the lab use beyond just the testers and developers – bring support, pre-sales and training staff to use the central lab infrastructure effectively. This helps grow the lab user base

Scalable Infrastructure

  • Access to enterprise server grade infrastructure (CPU, storage) to run complex resource intensive jobs (prolonged jobs can be run on the host server farms with no impact to the desktop machines)
  • Ability to leverage and use network fencing – i.e., the ability run multiple copies of a multi-machine configuration in parallel without any IP/MAC address conflicts

On the other hand, here is the key benefit of using desktop virtualization.

Independence

  • Desktop virtualization provides the ability to access the VMs anywhere even when you are not connected to the lab

How is your infrastructure for the testers/devs in your team setup currently? What are your experiences?

– Srihari Palangala

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