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System Center 2012 – Checkbox Compliant Heterogeneous Management

If you spend any amount of time researching Microsoft System Center 2012, whether through their websites, blogs, datasheets, or any other marketing materials, you may be under the impression that Microsoft has finally delivered on their promise of a “single pane of glass” to manage all of your investments in virtual infrastructure, especially when it comes to VMware vSphere. Having worked hands-on with both VMware vSphere and System Center 2012, my interest was piqued when a 57-page whitepaper was published by Microsoft devoted to the very subject. But the reality is that for a document fluffed up by nearly 50 pages of screen-shots and mouse click instructions, the most relevant information for the reader is this:

“In VMM, support for ESX/ESXi is optimized for virtual machine and service management.”

What’s Your Definition of Management?

Any vSphere Administrator who spends a moment to evaluate System Center 2012 and VMM (short for Virtual Machine Manager) for its multi-hypervisor management capabilities will soon learn that optimized translates to a lack of even the most basic support for their vSphere environment. Need to add a new host to your cluster? Switch over to your vSphere Client. Need to connect a host to the new LUN you just provisioned? Again, time to load up the vSphere Client.  Install or upgrade VMware Tools? Add a new Virtual Machine Port Group? Browse a datastore? These examples are by no means exhaustive but you probably get the idea. When it comes to managing VMware vSphere, System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager really is just a virtual machine manager.

The Search for the “Single Pane of Glass”

Choosing the right virtual infrastructure for any workload, including business critical, test and development, or remote office, includes not only evaluating the core platform for features and performance, it also requires evaluating the management platform for capabilities to simplify management and boost efficiency. VMware vSphere Administrators have long been able to perform all manner of virtual infrastructure management tasks like building clusters, configuring virtual networking, adding storage, or patching hosts all from the same management platform – VMware vCenter Server. Only VMware vCenter Server provides the ability to manage Resource Pools, deploy bare-metal ESXi hosts, enforce host profile compliance, and configure vSphere HA and DRS. Unable to provide vSphere Administrators with any of these capabilities, System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager may end up as yet another unused pane of glass sitting alongside Virtual Machine Manager 2008.

System Center 2012 – Multi-Hypervisor Management Done “Slight”

For what it’s worth, System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager does offer support for some common VMware vSphere virtual machine related management tasks. Microsoft even goes so far as to admit that System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager is “optimized for virtual machine and service management.” Unfortunately, this moment of System Center Truth is drowned out by more broad claims of management that is comprehensive, provides day-to-day operational support, and is delivered through a “single pane of glass.” Even with the addition of all the supporting management servers, databases, and consoles required to duplicate the scenarios demonstrated in the whitepaper, vSphere Administrators would still have to count on VMware vCenter Server to handle even the simplest of VMware vSphere management tasks. For this reason, I find Microsoft’s claim of a comprehensive, single pane of glass management experience for VMware vSphere to be little more than a marketing exercise, designed ultimately for checkbox compliance.