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VMware Supplies Data Center Software Staging Tool

Stage Manager allows IT administrators to test software changes in a virtualized production environment before launch.

VMware is offering beta software that expands the role of virtualization in the data center. The introduction of Stage Manager allows IT administrators to build a production-like environment and test drive software changes in it before launching them into production.

"We're explicitly targeting IT teams responsible for pre-production staging of new software," said Melinda Wilken, senior marketing director.

The pre-production phase of staging software is when a new application or an application working with a patched operating system is examined and tested before release into a production environment. Any change to the existing software infrastructure in effect becomes a subject for review and test before re-introduction into production. Problems that aren't caught in the staging phase may lead to business downtime later, and Stage Manager is intended to avoid that, Wilken said in an interview.

It's not expected to be available as a product until sometime this summer, she said. No pricing has been set. It's been available for download and experimental use since Jan. 21.

VMware already offers Lab Manager, a system for testing new software under various configurations before it goes into production. But Lab Manager is tied more to the software development, testing, and quality assurance process than the data center's change management process. Stage Manager is oriented toward the latter, Wilken said.

Software staging, which covers the pre-testing of patches, updates, additions, or new modules to existing software or introduction of new applications -- is a new role for virtualization, but one for which it may prove well suited. In the past, the expense of generating a duplicate production environment on matching hardware was a task with a high price tag, one around which inevitable shortcuts were taken. Nevertheless, downtime in the data center is overwhelmingly associated with software changes, rather than failed hardware devices.

"IT staff end up doing the staging activity in a real production environment, and that's risky," said Wilken.

Stage Manager is designed to produce and retain various configurations of the production environment and let IT managers know how well these "shadow instances" match up to the real production environment. The test environments inevitably "drift out of synch" with the production environment, said Wilken.

In addition to staging new applications or other software, staging can also allow IT managers to test drive new services that rely on several pieces of software, an increasingly important task as more companies adopt services oriented architecture.

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