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Monthly Archives: May 2012

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.

Sorry Microsoft; Not Only Does vSphere Cost Less to Buy, It Also Costs Less to Operate.

Microsoft’s wildly exaggerated claims of providing a less expensive virtualization platform than VMware vSphere have been hard to miss if you’ve spent any time on the web lately. We’ve previously pointed out the flaws in their math and our public Cost Per Application Calculator clearly shows how deploying a virtual infrastructure built with vSphere will cost about the same as one built using Microsoft Hyper-V and System Center (or even much less when vSphere’s proven VM density advantage over Hyper-V is factored in.) Now we’re pleased to share recent independent test results that show how vSphere also delivers dramatically lower operational costs compared to Microsoft.

The acquisition capital expense (CapEx) advantage for vSphere shown by our Cost Per Application Calculator is just part of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) that diligent customers will want to evaluate when choosing a virtualization and cloud platform. The other key TCO element to consider is Operational Expenses (OpEx) representing the ongoing costs of administering your virtual infrastructure. To help customers assess the OpEx differences between vSphere and Hyper-V, we enlisted Principled Technologies to run both platforms in their labs and measure the system administrator labor time needed for typical recurring tasks.

Five Typical Datacenter Tasks Tested

Principled Technologies selected five common tasks that any administrator of a virtualized datacenter must regularly perform and they measured the administrator labor time taken to complete each one using both the VMware and Microsoft platforms. The tasks tested were:

  1. Shifting virtual machines off a host to accommodate physical maintenance
  2. Adding storage volumes and redistributing virtual disk files across the new storage
  3. Isolating storage-intensive “noisy neighbor” virtual machines
  4. Provisioning new hosts
  5. Performing a non-disruptive disaster recovery failover test

Care was taken to conduct the scenario tasks as realistically as possible using the full capabilities of the latest released versions of the VMware and Microsoft products available at the time of the testing. vCenter Site Recovery Manager was included in the VMware configuration (and the full list SRM license costs were included in the VMware total cost figures.) vSphere 5 delivered a convincing across-the-board win over Microsoft for each task tested: tasks took 78% to 97% less time to complete using vSphere. The time savings provided by the VMware platform arise from the more advanced capabilities built into vSphere and the more efficient and optimized implementation of those features we’ve perfected over our years of focusing purely on delivering the best virtual infrastructure and cloud platform.


It’s important to note that the OpEx dollar savings shown in the chart above derive from only five representative sysadmin tasks. There are many other regular activities performed by administrators of virtualized datacenters, most of which will show similar efficiency advantages for vSphere over less mature and capable alternatives, so customers should expect even greater total OpEx savings from using vSphere.

Scenarios Delivering Big OpEx Wins for vSphere

Contributors to the biggest operational advantages for vSphere were:

  • Storage Distributed Resource Scheduler – When more storage is needed, the vSphere administrator can add volumes and let Storage DRS redistribute virtual disk files to the new volumes automatically with no VM downtime. The Hyper-V administrator must manually redistribute VM storage and make arrangements for VM downtime during the operation.
  • Concurrent vMotion – The vSphere administrator can complete physical host maintenance much sooner because vMotion maintenance mode evacuations of VMs can proceed concurrently and at a faster rate (see comparative live migration testing results here.) Hyper-V hosts can only handle one live migration at a time, so administrators are tied up with much longer maintenance windows.
  • Storage I/O Control – vSphere makes it easy to cap the storage IOPS consumed by each VM to prevent resource hogging by “noisy neighbors.” Hyper-V has no such feature, so administrators can only respond by dedicating storage volumes for misbehaving VMs – a tedious task requiring VM downtime.
  • vCenter Site Recovery Manager – SRM fully automates replication of mission-critical VMs to a remote site and failover in case of disaster. Real disasters may be rare, but full-scale DR tests should be regular events. That’s where the automated and non-disruptive DR failover test features in SRM deliver big operational savings. Setting up DR failovers with Hyper-V requires maintenance-intensive scripting to orchestrate VM replications and restarts and to modify VMs for network isolation.

After making their labor time measurements, Principled Technologies then estimated how many times each task would be repeated over the course of a two-year period in a datacenter operating 1,000 virtual machines. Multiplying the cumulative time taken performing each task by the U.S. national average system administrator compensation rate gave a dollar figure for the OpEx savings. As shown below, the final result was an impressive 91% reduction in operational expenses when using vSphere compared to Microsoft Hyper-V and System Center.


Operational Expenses Dominate Total Costs

The impact of the OpEx savings delivered by vSphere are even more significant when you consider that IT operational expenses are typically much larger than capital expenses. In fact, Gartner survey data shows cross-industry IT OpEx spending is almost three times CapEx spending – even more reason to choose a virtualization platform that will save you money with better operational efficiency long after the initial purchase.

The OpEx savings delivered by vSphere were enough to tip the two-year TCO advantage in favor of VMware in the 1,000-VM datacenter that was the baseline for Principled Technologies’ tests. When you can have the clearly superior features provided by vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus Edition together with vCenter Site Recovery Manager at a lower total cost than Microsoft’s best alternative, it’s easy to make the decision to go with VMware.

If you’re running your datacenter on vSphere now, an OpEx win by vSphere probably isn’t surprising. vSphere users benefit from over a decade of optimizations we’ve built into our platform that derive from experience in thousands of production datacenters. What did surprise us was just how large an operational advantage vSphere has over the Microsoft platform. The results are a clear example of why you need to look at more than just a feature checklist and initial price tag when choosing the virtualization platform for your most critical workloads.

Take a look for yourself at the full test report by Principled Technologies here (registration required.)