Virtualization Roundup: Four Lab Managers Tested and Reviewed
Real labs virtually
While I've strived to highlight the differences between the products, the real feel as you sit at the console is that the products are much alike. They all accomplish the same tasks -- construction, deployment, and teardown of VMs in groups -- very well. As you'll see in the accompanying figures, they look a lot alike too. Given that their principal functions are identical, this is not surprising.
The products shared other aspects. The native versions (i.e., all the products except Skytap) were remarkably difficult to install, and in all cases the documentation was poor. The vendors clearly expect to send out technicians on any sale, but it behooves the IT organization to have managers and admins well versed in virtualization if they expect to keep operations going without spending a lot of time on the vendor support line. In this regard, Skytap is an IT site's dream. It is totally turnkey. You install nothing, and within an hour or two of taking the demo, users can be actively provisioning and productive.
All four packages were easy to use once the basic concepts were understood. Thus, the real determinants in the selection process are the secondary features. The most IT-friendly packages are Surgient and VMLogix. They have the greatest interoperability, both have license trackers, and Surgient has an extensive scheduling mechanism.
VMware's product stood out comparatively in two areas: scalability and performance. While tested on different platforms, VMware was definitely faster -- a tribute to skillful use of its linked clone design. It also has the reputation for running huge labs and being installed at many sites. However, it requires a complete commitment to VMware, as it does not manage other virtual machines. It is in many ways the barest but fastest offering in this group. It is also backed by the largest vendor in this review, if this factors enter into your selection equation.
For sites that have never used lab management software, I highly recommend trying Skytap. This will provide a hands-on experience with a small investment and no disruption to their existing infrastructure. Then, once addicted to lab management's capabilities, they might consider one of the other solutions if they don't want to be on the cloud or care to deal with Skytap's twice-monthly windows of downtime. Skytap is also my first choice for organizations that need only occasional lab management facilities, such as testing surges caused by imminent product releases.
Overall, any solution you pick will work well, and the vendors offer evaluation plans that make it inexpensive to compare and contrast the solutions in pilot projects.
Read the individual reviews for the details:
- Surgient Virtual Automation Platform 7
- VMLogix LabManager 3.8.1
- VMware vCenter Lab Manager 4.0
- Skytap Cloud
Virtual lab managers at a glance
|Editions||Hosted only||On premises (tested) or hosted||On premises (tested) or hosted (supports Amazon EC2 VMs only)||On premises only|
|Virtualization platform support||VMware||VMware, Hyper-V||VMware, Hyper-V, Xen||VMware|
|Integrations with third-party provisioning systems||None||HP Server Automation, Symantec Altiris||None||None|
|Lab resource scheduling||No||Yes||No||No|
|VM console access methods||RDP, VNC, SSH||RDP, VNC, VMware console, Citrix||RDP, VNC, SSH, VMware console, Hyper-V VM connection client, NX VNC||RDP, SSH|
|Linked clones support||No||Limited||Yes||Yes|
|Virtual networking capabilities||NAT or bridged, multihomed VMs||NAT||NAT or bridged, multihomed VMs, firewall||NAT or bridged, multihomed VMs|
|Pricing||Varies, see article||$2,500 per CPU||$2,295 per CPU||$1,495 per CPU (requires vCenter)|
|Bottom line||Turnkey-hosted solution with a truly intuitive interface. Ideal for sites needing labs on a temporary basis or those who want to build, configure, and deploy transient systems off-site.||A cross-platform, enterprise-scale lab manager with excellent IT features, including a scheduler and license monitoring.||Strong enterprise offering and the only product in this review that supports Xen. VMLogix also has a cloud offering that runs on Amazon EC2.||Widely deployed, fast, and highly scalable solution. Fewer IT features than the other packages, and limited to VMware platforms only, but the de facto standard.|