Virtualization management: Cross-platform tools fall short

Test shows CA has the best handle, but there is room for improvement all around

With the abundance of formidable virtualization platforms on the market today, there ought to be a better way to manage heterogeneous VM farms.

But the bad news is, after comparing four packages whose makers say do just that, we're still looking for an easier way out of cross-platform virtualization management hell.

The VM management packages we tested fell into two categories: add-ons to existing systems management platforms, and newer standalone packages. Microsoft's Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (MS VMM) and CA's Unicenter-based Network & Systems Management (NSM) with Advanced Systems Management (ASM) fell into the former; while Insystek's TotalView and DynamicOps Virtual Resource Manager (VRM) fell into the latter.

The products varied wildly in their approach to the problem and each fell down in its own places.

•  Microsoft's SC VMM did well for Windows VM guests, and could get a grip on VMware's ESX platform — but only if VMware's expensive VirtualCenter was also installed. SC VMM required Microsoft's Operations Manager to provide life-cycle management, but integrating and patching everything together into a working system proved difficult. Likewise CA's graft of ASM and NSM onto our test network was wickedly difficult. NSM is a powerful, innately heterogeneous management package, and it could produce lots of data regarding our VM farm test simulation, but it stopped short in a number of areas including building and versioning VMs and discovering existing VM infrastructure. DynamicOps VRM was more of a VM library manager or provisioning rather than a full-fledged management package. It was also difficult to integrate, and lacked key features required for monitoring and managing VM infrastructure. Insystek's TotalView possesses all the characteristics of a work in progress. There was lots of promise for things such as policy-based management, but TotalView crashed, had problems with its admittedly brand-new Hyper-V support, and was a source of intense deployment frustration.




Goals and test environment

Each management package had to work with two or more hypervisor platforms picked from a list consisting of VMware's ESX 3.5, Microsoft's Hyper-V and/or Citrix's Xenserver 5.0. We installed these hypervisors on a variety of hardware platforms (see How we did it). And we installed the products under test on vendor recommended hardware and pointed them at VMs running across the multiple hypervisor hosting platforms supported by each.

Each VM management product was tested in five areas important to VM farm administrators:

• Release management (building and provisioning) for VM deployments comprising at least two different hypervisor platforms.

• Moving, adding and changing VM instances (life-cycle management) for VM deployments comprising at least two different hypervisor platforms.

• Operational management as facilitated by administrative and user roles using at least two different hypervisor platforms.

• Incident and troubles management consisting of monitoring, alarms, audit. and reports across multiple virtual host platforms.

• Security management for accessibility to VM instances, host operating environments, and applications across multiple host platforms.


If conserving VM sprawl was the marching order, the most important component of the tests was how each product maintained control over VM instances and the seemingly inevitable changes that VM instances go through in their life cycle.

We believe that running parallel, platform-specific management tools would cause the least amount of administrative pain at this juncture. But if you need to get some form of cross-platform VM management wares up and running immediately, then CA's NSM/ASM is the best option we tested.

Henderson and Allen are researchers for ExtremeLabs in Indianapolis. Contact them at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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