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SCVMM 2008 and VMware management - we must be doing something right...

It has come to my attention that some of our competitors are making various claims about SCVMM 2008 and VMware ESX management capabilities. I guess we have officially crashed the party but I thought I’d put together a blog post to address some of these claims.

 Let me start by saying that no software is perfect and we are constantly trying to improve and respond to customer feedback. In fact, the whole VMware ESX management feature was a result of customer feedback. Put simply, people want to use a single primary console for day to day management of virtual machines across multiple hypervisors so we went after this problem. As a result, multi-hypervisor management via SCVMM 2008 has proven to be enormously popular with customers and partners alike. Rather than offering customers an alternative or competitive cross-hypervisor solution, it’s unfortunate that rhetoric and FUD are being used, neither of which actually solve real customer problems. This is a pretty common tactic and as a result, I seldom respond directly to competitive claims (believe me, it’s tempting!) unless they come directly from customers because that’s ultimately our focus. In this case however it’s important to set the record straight on a few key issues because I don’t want customers to be confused or surprised so let’s get right into it…..

Why Does SCVMM remove templates from my ESX server when I import them? –SCVMM has the concept of a “library” which it uses to manage all of the building blocks of your VMs including ISOs, scripts, VHDs, VMDKs etc. - VMware doesn’t have this concept. When you choose to import ESX templates, SCVMM removes the template from the ESX host and puts it into our library. Keeping templates in both places results in multiple copies of the same template that you will need to maintain. For obvious reasons, customers typically don’t want to do this. Of course, importing the templates is an option and is not something that you are forced to do. You are free to create separate SCVMM templates for VMware directly though our UI if you feel like that’s a better approach and want to keep different versions for the different environments. Creating a template in SCVMM takes only a few minutes.

When I create a VM with SCVMM 2008, how come the default settings through the wizard don’t work with ESX or Virtual Server? – When you first begin to provision a VM with SCVMM, we don’t know which hypervisor you’ll eventually select – Hyper-V, ESX or Virtual Server – so we can’t default things automatically. If you as an administrator know which hypervisor you want to target ahead of time and don’t want to reconfigure VMs in the wizard each time through, there’s a simple way to solve this – create a reusable template. SCVMM’s template creation process is simple and straight forward and is meant for the very purpose of avoiding the need to re-type parameters repeatedly.

VMware doesn’t have intelligent placement and they only support ESX so this is an issue that they can ignore even if you cannot – they always assume ESX and ask you to select the host yourself. Incidentally, if you select a VM that is configured in such a way that it cannot be run on a specific hypervisor, SCVMM’s intelligent placement gives you this information and tells you how to modify the VM configuration to make it compatible which you can use as part of your template.

Does SCVMM 2008 give me visibility into resource pools? - Yes. You can view resource pool properties by right-clicking on an SCVMM 2008 host group. SCVMM 2008 customers use host groups as their effective resource pools (or they consider a cluster to be a resource pool because it’s the radius within which live migrations or quick migrations can occur). SCVMM ensures that when VMs are auto-migrated via policy that they can remain attached to their native host group or cluster so in almost every practical scenario, you won’t have issues. With that said, we’ve received customer feedback that SCVMM should also retain mappings to underlying VMware resource pools and we have a patch that we’re preparing to release in the coming month (April 2009) to address this issue.

Does SCVMM prevent migrations that Virtual Center would allow? Sometimes it discourages them and that’s a good thing. As I’ve stated earlier, VMware doesn’t have intelligent placement so you select the host manually and this means that it’s much “looser” in what it allows. You can do the same in SCVMM and bypass intelligent placement and the associated analysis by using our Powershell interface but that’s not necessarily a good idea. In a recently cited example, SCVMM gives an ESX host that is out of physical memory zero stars in intelligent placement when in reality a customer could use ESX memory overcommit to actually run the VM on that host. Practically speaking (in the real world), this is a contrived scenario since the only way you’d have this problem is if *every* host that you’re considering for placement is out of memory and resources. If you’re not in that predicament, intelligent placement will find a more suitable location for you automatically (I suppose if I had to shell out all that cash for ESX/VI licenses I’d be trying to use every last MB before adding a new host as well but I digress). While the effectiveness and wisdom of memory overcommit is in a production environment is debatable, preferring a host that doesn’t require overcommit to one that does is undeniably the right thing to do. With that said, you can always bypass our intelligent placement via Powershell to move VMs to overcommitted hosts so you shouldn’t be blocked as some have claimed. In addition, we’ll look to integrate this with intelligent placement UI in our upcoming release for the rare case where you end up in this situation.

Can I reuse port groups that I created in ESX? We’ve added this feature to the upcoming release. This is more about nuisance/clutter and if you ask me, the whole concept of port groups is awkward and leads to confusion. We didn’t invent it but we’ve made some changes to accommodate the ESX model for better compatibility.

It looks like Virtual Center gives me more monitoring information than System Center, is that true? Of course not. If your job depends on keeping applications and services running and not on checking IP addresses and watching CPU charts, System Center does this for you with Operations Manager. Once again, like cross hypervisor management, VMware does not provide any solution. Try checking the health of your SQL Server or accounting application with Virtual Center….

Rather than throwing very rudimentary monitoring and health information into the SCVMM console (okay, so we did some of that anyways), we have a full featured extensible monitoring solution that provides in-depth knowledge about applications running within a VM with System Center Operations Manager and the over 100 vendor created management packs. The fact is that if you want to monitor applications, you need a management solution that monitors applications – it’s that simple. Treating a VM like a black box and monitoring hardware as VMware does is not particularly useful for making decisions and does not eliminate the need for health monitoring. Saying that SCVMM requires different software for monitoring is like saying Word requires different software for Spreadsheet work. For our part, Operations Manager and SCVMM are built on the same UI framework and SCVMM 2008 adds a new feature called Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO) which forwards alerts between the consoles. In the future, you can expect even tighter integration between these products.

With that said, you are of course free to use your existing monitoring system as well. Unlike ESX, all Hyper-V functionality is publicly available and exposed to any and all of our partners directly at the hypervisor level. In addition, anything you do in SCVMM through the GUI you can also do through our fully documented command line interface via Powershell. System Center can also patch and configure your VMs via Configuration Manager and back up your VMs with Data Protection Manager. While we (along with thousands of customers) think that they all provide great value and functionality as a group, you of course have the freedom to choose and decide for yourself.

If you are thinking of using SCVMM 2008 to manage VMware because you have a mixed environment (and we have many many customers who are doing just that), keep in mind that SCVMM does not require you to uninstall or remove VMware Virtual Center from your environment. In fact, you have to keep Virtual Center around because VMware does not expose some APIs (like Vmotion) through ESX. We’re a manager of managers so it is nearly risk free to try it out and make up your own mind about how effective we are.

We’re extremely proud to be the only deep cross-hypervisor management tool in market solving this important problem for customers.