Ask the vendors: VMware vCenter Operations

Posted by Claudio Criscione   |   Monday, April 11th, 2011   |  

With the release of vCenter Operations in February, VMware took its chances in a market and operational segment which, until then, had been filled by its own partners. In the wake of such move, got in touch with some of the most relevant affected vendors to collect their feedback.

We asked the vendors if they planned to integrate with or build on top of vCenter Operations, what their opinion was on VMware’s general strategy toward partners considering this move and how they saw their own value proposition compared to the VMware offering. The result, we think, is quite interesting…

We started by asking the vendors how their product excels compared to VMware current offerings. The first impression we got, is that vendors are looking at vCenter Operations as a product which is
simply not suitable for large enterprises because of its main shortcoming, which is the lack of depth and knowledge in the specific domain, something which is mandatory to identify, for instance, root causes of issues.

Quoting Andrew Hiller, the CTO of CiRBA, who provided an example of how this wide knowledge and technological power is required:

CPU ready is a statistic that is highly linked to the hypervisor technology, and is very useful in the troubleshooting process. But if a performance problem arises that is caused by a software upgrade or other OS-level changes, you can stare at CPU Ready and other metrics until you are blue in the face and it won’t help. These statistics can only betray symptoms of the underlying problem, and true root
cause analysis requires going beyond the normal host and guest stats and into the OS and application details

That is, in-depth knowledge spanning outside the hypervisor is seen as a key differential which VMware is said to be far from being able to provide.
Using the words of Bryan Semple, the CMO of VKernel:

VMware vCenter Operations is primarily a marketing bundle while VKernel today is delivering a fully integrated platform for Performance Monitoring, Capacity Planning, Optimization and Reporting/Chargeback. That is something that is not on VMware’s roadmap for a very long time.

Furthermore, the second focus point most vendors have identified is their capability of supporting multiple platforms, something which is a requirement in large enterprises: being multi-platform and system agnostic is seen as a must-have by all vendors for any enterprise-grade solution.

Summing up, no vendor is trying to challenge Operations in terms of hypervisor and vCenter integration: the chosen battlegrounds are the width of the solution in terms of supported platforms and the depth of the analysis on components outside the direct hypervisor domain. Whether these challenges are too big for VMware to overcome quickly – especially considering the experience of vCloud
Controller – remains to be seen.

Regarding the possibility of integrating their existing products or building something on top of vCenter Operations , all vendors adopt a cautious approach, stating that this kind of development would heavily depend upon the actual interest of customers or potential customers on the vCenter Operations platform. Only CA expressed a more open position, but as can be expected so early from the release no one of the interviewed vendors was willing to commit to the platform.

Finally, we asked vendors what was their opinion on VMware’s move from a strategic point of view, especially regarding its behavior against partners and the shelter it was willing to offer to the ecosystem. The general opinion is well expressed by Andi Mann, VP Product Marketing at CA:

VMware has been both leveraging and undercutting its partners’ business almost as long as it has existed, so this is no surprise to anyone.

This quote perfectly describes the relationship between VMware and most of its partners in general terms. While this is common behavior among platform providers such as Sun or Microsoft, VMware has arguably been more aggressive and provided less protection to its ecosystem in the last years.
This same feeling has been shared by all vendors we interviewed, and the answers have been incredibly homogeneous, confirming that the launch of vCenter Operations has been perceived as yet another step in a broader strategy where VMware is filling strategic needs of customers directly competing with its partners.

The vision CiRBA has is worth to mention specifically here, namely that some features are better managed by the hypervisor vendor, high availability being a prime sample. However, CiRBA
thinks that there is a line where partners and the ecosystem begin to be very important and should be chosen over the hypervisor vendor: that line crosses some enterprise level services, such as multi-platform systems like service desk solutions and performance troubleshooting solutions. An interesting insight is that in order to assess a large number of performance issues you have to own a complete vision on all of the infrastructure, from the host to the guest, from the hardware to deep inside the operation system. The base point here is that CiRBA is said to be capable of doing so, while VMware is not.

On overall, vCenter Operations was perceived as a small “invasion” in the domains of partners, one leaving little space for integration or combined value proposition. As a consequence, competition in this area can only become tighter and tighter, with no clear leader in the near future: if partners do not start to integrate and provide features on top of Operations, VMware might as well be driven to develop itself the missing features, and become yet another major player in the area.

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