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VMware Moves to Automation

One of the great things about virtualization is that it makes it incredibly easy to add a new server -- or 10, or 100 new servers.

It's also one of the great difficulties of virtualization. With servers so easy to create, an admin can be quickly overwhelmed with requests for new servers -- for instance, the development team may need five new servers for testing by Wednesday. And after creation, those servers have to be tracked through their lifecycles.

Another problem exists, too. Since they're so easy to create, power users, developers and others may start creating their own VMs. And if an admin is not carefully tracking his or her environment's VM creation, it's not difficult to lose track and suffer the dreaded "VM sprawl."

To help combat this growing problem, VMware has announced a suite of automation tools. They include lifecycle management, lab management and application integration.

One product -- VMware Lab Manager -- has been out for more than a year. The new ones are VMware Lifecycle Manager and VMware Stage Manager.

In the virtualization realm, "the big new horizon is automation," said Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's Senior Director of Product Marketing, in an interview. "There's a lot more automation in the datacenter than was possible before."

VMware started building out a line of automation products, Balkansky says, because current offerings are "manual, error-prone and inefficient."

The most important new product is Lifecycle Manager. It "automates every step of the process of requesting and approving, operating, updating, and eventually archiving and deleting VMs [virtual machines]," according to Balkansky.

Lifecycle Manager automates from the very beginning, handling the routing of requests for new VMs to the appropriate personnel for approval. Lifecycle Manager also includes the ability to create standardized catalogues of items; for instance, virtual CPUs and virtual RAM. So if a developer needs a VM that needs a quad-core CPU and 4GB RAM, he or she can click those items in the catalogue and send it to the virtualization administrator for approval. "It eliminates the manual, rote tasks of clicking buttons," Balkansky explains.

Stage Manager is a plumbing-heavy application that orchestrates the process of moving an application from pre-production through production. That normally involves integrating a new piece of software into the environment; testing the integration for compatibility; placing the software on a staging server for select end users to test; and finally putting the application into production. It's a lot of steps, and usually means creating and maintaining multiple versions of an application.

Stage Manager, says Balkansky, "allows customers to move applications through the process in a very seamless and elegant way, by just clicking through. It eliminates the pain of maintaining multiple instances [of an application], in moving applications through the process of pre-production through production."

Lab Manager gives developers and QA admins the ability to self-provision VMs for their environments, while allowing virtualization admins ultimate control over the process. It's not a new product, but Balkansky says it was included with the others because it fits in the automation category of products.

The new offerings have a more subtle benefit as well, says Balkansky; although companies may have policies for provisioning VMs on the books, enforcement was typically lax or nonexistent. "Before, these policies were in a written manual. How do you ensure that people comply with these policies? [VMware is now] baking all these policies into the software."

Another product announced today has its foot in both the automation and disaster recovery (DR) arenas. VMware Site Recovery Manager aims to overcome current limitations to DR implementations, which are "slow and prone to failures because they involve many manual and complex steps, are almost impossible to test, and require exact duplication of the production datacenter hardware to ensure reliable recovery," states the VMware press release.

Virtualization's inherent advantages of portability and hardware independence can dramatically improve DR. With Site Recovery Manager, Balkansky says, organizations can test their DR processes "once, twice, three times [per day] or as many times as they want to make sure it's working properly."

Although all these products have been known about for some time, VMware is demonstrating most of them for the first time at VMworld in Cannes, France, starting Tuesday. Balkansky didn't give a specific timeframe for their availability, but says he expects all three of the new ones available "over Q2" of this year.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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