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What to buy: Private cloud management tools compared

Compare leading third-party private cloud management tools to pick the right one for your environment.

As more organizations adopt private clouds, the need for management software is becoming readily apparent. But not all private cloud management tools are created equally. IT pros must ensure the tool they choose will best meet their organization's requirements.

All of the major private cloud vendors offer their own products for building and managing private clouds. Microsoft offers System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) as a management tool for Hyper-V and VMware offers the vCloud Suite. Similarly, Citrix offers CloudPlatform and Red Hat has CloudForms.

Although these management tools provide basic capabilities for managing the virtualization infrastructure that makes up a private cloud environment, there are numerous third-party products that deliver management capabilities beyond what the platform tools provide, such as multi-platform support, the ability to reclaim wasted space, and virtual machine (VM) monitoring for optimal performance.

This article walks you through the four essential purchasing criteria for server virtualization/private cloud management products, and compares four of the most mature and popular third-party products including:

Purchasing criteria

There are numerous considerations that should be taken into account when choosing a private cloud management product. At first, it might seem as though the most important considerations are directly related to the private cloud's core functionality, such as virtual network configuration or self-service provisioning. However, these types of features are built into the hypervisor vendor's private cloud software.

Private cloud management software is better suited toward providing insights into your virtualization infrastructure and the workloads that are running on top of it. That being the case, the four most important criteria to evaluate when choosing a management product are:

Diagnostic capabilities: Server virtualization and private cloud infrastructures are complex. A good management tool must be able to find and fix issues before they affect virtual machines (VMs).

Multi-platform support: More environments are using multiple hypervisors to match economics and workloads. The more platforms a management tool supports, the more flexibility you have.

Resource monitoring: A proper management tool must be able to reclaim wasted storage and ensure your physical resources are being utilized most efficiently.

Performance tracking: Keeping your virtual infrastructure balanced and running at peak efficiency is key to maximizing your private cloud deployment.

Diagnostic capabilities

Enterprise-class server virtualization infrastructures are complex because they involve a lot of different components working together to provide reliable workload hosting. This complexity increases exponentially when the infrastructure is configured to act as a private or hybrid cloud because of the additional layers of abstraction. This complex and widely distributed infrastructure can make it difficult to detect and remediate potential issues before they lead to real problems. As such, any good management product should be able to detect conditions that could lead to serious concerns.

When it comes to diagnostic capabilities, SolarWinds Virtualization Manager has the clear advantage. The software includes a number of different features that can be used to spot problematic conditions. However, the most useful of the software's diagnostic capabilities is the virtualization dependency mapping and historical forensics feature. The software is smart enough to understand the relationships between objects (such as VMs, hosts and data stores) within the virtual data center. Not only can you map object dependencies, but the software maintains historical data that allows you to track the way those dependencies evolve over time.

VMTurbo takes a different approach to diagnostics. Private cloud monitoring software typically generates alerts to notify administrators of problems. VMTurbo isn't an alert-based solution. Instead, it constantly monitors workloads and automatically makes adjustments to prevent problems from occurring.

WhatsVirtual provides diagnostic alerts that make use of the WhatsUp Gold Alert Center. The Alert Center is a single pane of glass interface that provides organization-wide alerts and notifications of events happening across the entire organization, so alerts related to the server virtualization infrastructure are displayed within the same interface as more generalized alerts.

Although Embotics vCommander provides an excellent and diverse set of features, it lacks diagnostic and remediation capabilities beyond basic performance troubleshooting.

Multi-platform support

Multi-vendor support might not seem important at first glance, especially if you are currently using a single-vendor tool. But there's no guarantee that will always be the case, and a number of shops are deploying multiple hypervisor utilities to match economics and workloads. For example, in the last year, a number of VMware shops have started bringing in Hyper-V servers because they can be more cost-effective, in some cases, than purchasing additional VMware licenses.

When it comes to multi-vendor support, Embotics is the best choice. vCommander is designed to work in both VMware and Microsoft environments, and, although it lacks Citrix support, it does offer support for Amazon EC2 and HP public clouds.

When it comes to private clouds that don't require public cloud support, it's VMTurbo that has the edge. The company supports VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and RedHat RHEV.

In contrast, SolarWinds Virtualization Manager only supports VMware and Hyper-V, while WhatsVirtual only supports vSphere 5 environments.

Resource monitoring

Resource monitoring is essential to ensure your entire virtualized private cloud environment has the physical hardware resources it requires. It can also reclaim wasted storage space that has been allocated to now-dormant VMs.

All of the profiled products do an excellent job monitoring cloud resources, but SolarWinds Virtualization Manager's ability to recover wasted resources makes it stand out. Like the competition, SolarWinds provides a variety of dashboards that you can use to track resource usage. Its VM Sprawl Control feature is the best tool among the compared products that tracks down abandoned and over-allocated VMs to reclaim wasted resources.

VMTurbo provides a number of different dashboards that give the administrator a workload summary and an overview of the virtualization infrastructure as a whole. In addition, VMTurbo provides a free monitoring feature called Virtual Health Monitor. It provides all the monitoring data that you would expect, and also delivers efficiency recommendations and information on dormant VMs from which you might be able to reclaim storage space.

Embotics provides a number of different features related to resource monitoring. The software provides "rightsizing" reports that detail which virtual machines are consuming the most CPI, memory and storage resources.  The software also offers reports detailing resource consumption, which show how resources are being consumed over time, and by whom. The most useful of vCommander's resource monitoring features are its intelligent workload placement capabilities. The software can either recommend workload placement or automatically move workloads based on business requirements and available hardware capacity.

WhatsVirtual provides a dashboard that is dedicated to resource monitoring at the virtualization level. This dashboard reports on resource allocation and resource consumption on a host and VM level for resources such as CPU, memory, disk and network.

Performance tracking

Another major criterion when evaluating management software is the ability to track your physical hardware and VM performance. It is the only way to ensure mission-critical workloads are running efficiently.

When it comes to performance tracking, I recommend SolarWinds Virtualization Manager. It includes all of the performance tracking capabilities that you would expect from an enterprise class management solution. In addition, it offers dedicated network performance monitors, server and application monitors, and VDI performance monitors that allow high levels of granularity with regards to how performance data is collected and analyzed.

VMTurbo's free Virtual Health Monitor also provides performance monitoring for CPU, memory, storage, and the network fabric. Resource utilization is displayed on a heat map, and it also has a storage resource dashboard and a separate display that ranks hosts by CPU queue length. VMTurbo's real strength, however, comes in what it does with the monitoring data. The software constantly makes adjustments to the workloads to ensure optimal performance. For instance, a VM can be dynamically moved to an underutilized host as a way of relieving a performance bottleneck.

Embotics vCommander includes built-in performance troubleshooting capabilities, and the software is designed to detect performance issues before service-level agreements (SLAs) are impacted. There are also a number of performance-related reports included.

WhatsVirtual is designed as a plug-in for a product called WhatsUp Gold, and the parent software provides basic performance monitoring. It tracks typical physical server performance metrics such as CPU utilization, disk utilization, memory consumption and network latency. It also collects additional performance metrics for VMware VMs using the VMware API.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that SolarWinds had the best offering in three out of the four criteria that were evaluated, it may not always be the best choice.

VMTurbo is better for larger organizations that need to minimize day-to-day maintenance. The software automatically makes adjustments to virtualized workloads to head off problems before they can occur.

vCommander is the best choice for hybrid environments because of its native support for public clouds.

Embotics vCommander is the best all-around tool for those who are deploying a strictly private cloud. The software focuses heavily on things like financial justifications, governance, tracking and compliance. It also has a really nice asset discovery engine and even has features related to VM lifecycle management and snapshot management.

This was last published in October 2014

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