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October 21, 2009

Manage virtualized sprawl with VRMs

The essence of my work is coming into daily contact with innovative technologies. A recent example was at the request of a partner company who wanted to answer- which one of these tools will best solve my virtualized datacenter headache? After initial analysis all the products could be classified as tools that troubleshoot VM sprawl, but there was no universally accepted term for them. The most descriptive term  that I found was Virtual Resource Manager (VRM) from DynamicOps. As I delved deeper into their workings, the distinction between VRMs and Private Clouds became blurred. What are the differences?

What is a VRM?

A Virtual Resource Manager provides agile and dynamic management in virtualized environments. Kinda vague, so what does this actually mean? Well, with today's data centers migrating their infrastructure from hard metal to virtualized resources (storage, VMs, networking etc.) admins need the power to manage this new landscape efficiently – VRMs enable this with:

  • Dynamic provisioning of virtual resources – VRMs provide one-click VM provisioning. Clients select their template, and submit their order. Within minutes the machine is deployed and started ready for use.
  • Work-flow management – enabling automation of key management processes i.e. periodic heavy computation benefits from automated provisioning of virtual resources. VRM management API's allow applications to manage their own virtualized resources.
  • High availability – VRMs monitor and take action (restart, create new instances) when virtualized resources fail.
  • Usage statistics and billing – users are billed for what they use according to their pricing model.
  • Single point management of heterogeneous virtualized infrastructure – if my finance department uses Citrix Xen virtualization and my HR uses VmWare, these can be managed by the IT department from a single web interface

The key thing to take away from this list is flexibility. In essence, rather than admins managing the infrastructure, this power is given to accountable users. Effectively users are now customers and can manage their own virtual resources.

Available VRM products

A quick overview of available VRM products and their supported features is shown. At a glance we can see that products from the established big players, VMware and Citrix, have been recently joined by in-house developed solutions, such as Zimory's management layer. We can only assume that these were developed to solve problems with existing virtualization management tools.

Time restraints meant that I could not get my hands dirty, so I can only quote what the vendors say. Additions, comments and corrections are welcomed!


VMware vCloud Citrix Essentials DynamicOps' Virtual Resource Management Zimory's management layer FastScale Composer Suite Surgient Virtual Automation Platform
Company founded 1998 1989 2008 2008 2006 1999
VM life cycle management Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Supported virtualizers VMware Citrix Xen,Microsoft Hyper-V Citrix Xen, VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V Citrix Xen, VMware VMware VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V
Workflow management API Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
HA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Usage and billing Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
Web based management console Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes
Yes

VRM = Cloud?

VRM functionality seems strikingly similar to products that enable the creation of Private Clouds. Last month my colleague blogged about Eucalyptus to create IaaS. Key functionality, such as dynamic VM management, usage statistics and billing are found in both. So are there any differences?

One notable difference is that VRMs provide hooks (VRM management API) that allow applications to take control of the virtual environment. A novel use could be applications that are responsible for their own load balancing. Application developers know where the limitations of their apps performance are. A highly efficient environment can be created by enabling developers to write code that takes decisive action, such as utilizing another cluster, when performance suffers.

In my opinion the differences between VRMs and Private Cloud are only going to get smaller as one takes from the other.


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As I can see this post is very commercial based, however I think that we shouldn't forget to put some Open-Source VRM solutions.
I think that you could add OpenQRM in the comparison. Some time ago I was investigating it, and it was very impressive. Look at the video: http://www.openqrm.com/?q=node/150 . However as it was a long time ago and many things changed, I think we should install it and test on real hardware. What do you think? :)
Additionally what comes to my mind is Enomaly's Elastic Computing Platform (http://www.enomaly.com/Product-Overview.419.0.html). However I'm not sure if this is VRM, could you check?

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