VMware vCloud Director 1.5: Small but definitive step forward

vCloud Director 1.5 is a baby step toward the private cloud utopia for VMware customers. Here's what you need to know and how users are reacting to the new product.

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Along with the release of vSphere 5, widely acclaimed as a technical success and a potential licensing crisis, VMware has unveiled vCloud Director 1.5. Neither are available yet, but the details have been released. Users hail it as a great start to getting a viable private cloud from VMware.

If you're getting all the benefits of consolidated RAM, it'd be nice to pay only for what you were using.

Gurusimran Khalsa, systems administrator for the Human Services Division of the State of New Mexico

Overall, however, vCD deployment remains very low, with lighthouse cases in some enterprise test and dev environments and most traction at service providers. Private organization adoption is sparse; one person listed as a vCloud Director customer by VMware and contacted for this story did not know if they were using the product and thought a former graduate student may have experimented with it at some point.

That might begin to change since, most importantly, deployment options for vCloud Director (vCD) have changed. It still needs to be deployed to a dedicated server host running RHEL, but it now supports Microsoft SQL 2005 and 2008 databases for a backend, and VMware promises more database support to come.

"To be honest, the biggest thing that stopped us going forward was the Oracle licensing," said Gurusimran Khalsa, systems administrator for the Human Services Division of the State of New Mexico. He said his agency had already endured several years of consolidation and virtualization and vCloud Director looked attractive. HSD even bought a few licenses to experiment with but never used them because the requirement for Oracle was something the division had successfully dodged in the past and wasn’t about to sacrifice for vCD.

Khalsa, who oversees about 300 VMs on 4 or 5 physical hosts, said vCloud Director looked like a great idea on paper. He wants to use it for development and said his division had looked at VMware Lab Manager in the past but hadn't bought it in. With the new features, HSD will begin using those old vCloud Director licenses and begin testing its capabilities in short order, said Khalsa. "We're really interested in it from a lab manager standpoint," he said. "We've got a lot of development going on and a lot more coming.”

Steve Herrod, VMware’s CTO said setting up big labs was the most popular use case for vCloud Director among enterprise IT organizations thus far.

Khalsa said much of his workload is running SQL servers, Web applications and Web servers. He said the biggest potential pain in the neck when implementing vSphere 5 and vCloud Director is going to be making sure his third party management tools, HyTrust, Altor and Xangati, don't come unglued. vCloud Director and vSphere 5 aren't anywhere close to replacing the functionality of those tools, said Khalsa.

He also thinks VMware missed an opportunity on vRAM licensing for private cloud implementations: The new scheme requires licenses based on how much vRAM is allocated to each VM, but Khalsa wants to be licensed based on how much is actually used. Imagine 100 Windows SBS VMs, each allocated with 4GB vRAM from a pool, but the running servers typically only use 1GB in operation, said Khalsa. "If you're getting all the benefits of consolidated RAM, it'd be nice to pay only for what you were using," he said.

Other users rebel against vSphere 5 pricing
"I understand their desire to move to a charge model of pay as you go as that's one of the basic tenants of cloud computing, I'm just not convinced they got some of the parameters set appropriately," said Matt Vogt, systems administrator for Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., in an email. Vogt, who also blogs about his tech work, said vCD was interesting but probably not necessary to his organization; he's not spinning up VMs all day, so he doesn't need the capabilities or the added expense.

Vogt is jazzed about vSphere 5, though, and said that he'd love to see some of the vCD features as part of the base vSphere package. "Linked clones, though, is super intriguing. This concept has been around on the SAN side for a while (we're on EqualLogic), so it's nice to see it come to the vSphere side of things, just wish it were a part of the base suite," he said.

vCD 1.5 now supports linked clones, meaning virtual machines can be quickly provisioned from a master template instead of creating full copies for each new instance. Lab Manager could do this, and from a developer's perspective, that meant very flexible experimentation and provisioning of test environments. On the storage side, as Vogt refers to, it means significant savings in infrastructure, since each clone can draw on a master template and not store redundant information for each and every VM. vCD can store clone information across multiple "virtual data centers," which are discrete networks of virtual resources.

vCloud Director’s public cloud potential
BlueLock, a hosting and managed service provider, said the most common request it gets is how to connect its environment to its customers, according BlueLock CTO Pat O'Day.

BlueLock operates one of the larger vCloud service provider environments in the U.S. But connecting users' VMware environments to Bluelock's vCloud, even in the same data center, has not been simple.

O'Day said this release will perk up fence sitters, since the vShield integration means connecting two vClouds is a matter of entering a few pieces of information instead of the messy effort it had been, requiring support personnel at both locations to coordinate and execute many steps.

vShield and vCloud now have better integration through the vCloud API, so users can effectively manage perimeters and connect virtual data centers from vCloud directly. It also now supports third party virtual networking technologies. VMware has made a  vCD 1.5 technical overview available for further explanation.

To be honest, the biggest thing that stopped us going forward was the Oracle licensing.

Gurusimran Khalsa

"Once it becomes simple to connect to a public vCloud or two private vClouds, federation becomes much more interesting," O'Day said. He sees gradual progress on making a truly seamless, hybrid cloud out of VMware for enterprises. Right now, you either put a lot of equity into patching together a private cloud with vCloud Director or you outsource, using vCloud services from somebody like BlueLock. As the technology advances, said O'Day, it's eventually going to live up to the promise of cloud computing in the Amazon-style, only enterprises will get their familiar VMware tools and support.

He compared the technical features to how Microsoft gradually made clipboard data available to many applications. Back in the dark ages (the 1990's), cutting and pasting from a document to a spreadsheet or another application simply wasn't possible.

Then, almost overnight, it was, and that small advance in Windows was incredibly valuable to end users. Who could imagine not being able to cut and paste one app to another today? That's kind of what the linked clones means to vCloud and vSphere, said O'Day, and it's symbolic of the trend, and the promise, of cloud computing overall.

That said, he's pretty sure neither vSphere nor vCloud Director qualify as the full blown cloud utopia, at least, not yet. "You're seeing it more on the PowerPoint slide rather than in the engineering, but it's slowly becoming a cloud infrastructure," he said. vCloud Director 2.0, perhaps?

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

(Editor's note: This story was updated Saturday to clarify a point about deployment options for vCloud Director.)

 

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