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VMware's System Management Push: CA, BMC, HP Push Back

Traditional systems management vendors lock horns with VMware as it trespasses into their space. In some cases, they remain the better option, say users.

As VMware expands its push into virtualized systems, traditional systems management vendors HP, BMC Software, and CA Technologies are pushing back.

VMware is the undisputed supplier of system and system management tools for its own ESX Server and vSphere 5 environment. The addition of vCenter Operations in 2011 upped the ante with traditional systems management vendors, as it moved into configuration, capacity, and performance management in the virtualized environment. Those had been considered separate functions in the physical world of traditional systems management. If VMware succeeds in putting synchronized, combined systems management behind each virtual machine as it's created, what's left for the traditional systems management vendors to do?

Plenty, say spokesmen for HP, BMC, and CA, citing recent additions to their product lines. At the same time, they point to their heterogeneous approaches as an asset.

BMC customer Kalyan Kamar is head of cross-functional services for HCL Technologies' infrastructure services division (ISD) in Mumbai, India. HCL is one of India's most successful outsourcing firms, and its ISD unit offers customers the equivalent of private cloud operations from HCL data centers in India, the United States, and Europe. That leaves Kamar responsible for 18,000 servers, mostly x86 machines, but also some Unix boxes running IBM AIX, HPUX, and Solaris. That means he can't manage his infrastructure with systems management tools designed for a homogenous x86 world.

[ Want to learn more about how VMware is maneuvering its new products into the data center in the face of traditional systems management? See VMware Vs. The Old School: Data Center Management Battle. ]

Some customers ask him for a side-by-side systems management view of their VMware x86 machines and Unix systems running on HCL servers and their virtual servers they've commissioned in the Amazon Web Services cloud, said Kamar.

"We looked at what Microsoft and VMware had to offer," he said in a telephone interview from his Mumbai office July 25. With acquisitions like VMware's recent purchase of DynamicOps, it is becoming more heterogeneous, he concedes. Likewise, his division is already a large user of Microsoft's Systems Center, which has begun to embrace VMware virtual machine management alongside Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix Systems XenServer management.

But he still views them both as still too wedded to a single homogeneous environment. "We are primarily a 90% Microsoft shop," he said. But "Microsoft and VMware are not so good in heterogeneous environments."

For his customers with mixed environments that include Unix, he turned to BMC's Cloud Operations product. With it, he can offer ISD customers a Web portal where they can log in and see how their combined VMware servers, Unix servers, and Amazon EC2 servers are performing.

Cloud Operations was upgraded July 24 to include many features of BMC ProactiveNet Performance Management (BPPM), BMC's existing application performance management product. Kamar referred to both BPPM and Cloud Operations, sometimes in the same breath. But BMC's Lilac Schoenbeck, senior manager of cloud computing, said BPPM still exists as a separate product. Some of its features, such as its analytics engine, have been incorporated into Cloud Operations to provide specific intelligence on servers in both public and private clouds.

The analytics engine collects data on routine operations and includes analytics that recognize when performance is lagging behind norms. It can analyze why performance is lagging by examining different operations in a software stack, including database response times. It knows how "to extract key learnings from operations to make remedial recommendations," she said.

Another BMC systems management feature was announced July 24 as ready for cloud-server management: the Atrium Configuration Management Database (CMDB). CMDBs are described by VMware systems management advocates as outdated technology because of their infrequent updates--daily or perhaps every four hours in most settings. The virtualized environment has too many frequent changes to rely on such a system.

But that may be because VMware doesn't have a configuration management database.

BMC's Schoenbeck said Cloud Lifecycle Management uses a CMDB derived from Atrium to capture the data about each virtual machine as it's built, and updates it with each change. That allows Cloud Lifecycle Management to serve as a platform for doing many other things in the virtualized part of the data center, also sometimes organized as a private cloud. It can serve as a base for applying policies to individual VMs and ensure that workload service level agreements (SLAs) will be met.

"Having a CMDB is wonderful goal in a stable environment. In the virtualized environment, with everything moving around, having a single source of truth (the CMDB) is invaluable," said Schoenbeck.

The configuration management database also figured prominently in HP's announcement July 23 of HP Configuration Management System 10. It also has a CMDB. HP calls it a "universal" CMDB because it can discover and capture information on servers, whether they are physical or virtual and whether they are on-premises or in the cloud, said Jimmy Augustine, product marketing manager for HP software in an interview.

Configuration Management System can discover both physical and virtual servers and the things they are attached to--databases and other services--to map their dependencies into the CMDB. It doesn't matter whether the servers are on-premises or in the cloud, said Augustine.

That discovery is unusual, said Scott Hite, an early adopter of the product and director of technology for global IT asset management at Equifax. "HP has taken two different industry leading technologies and merged them together."

Equifax uses IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle database systems, and the discovery component of HP's product can tell which release of each system you're using. Equifax gets a more complete view of the software assets it has in use on each server, he continued. "I feel HP has re-invented the discovery space. I don't know of another vendor that's pulled it off," he said in an interview July 23.

CA Technologies illustrates both how traditional systems management vendors have expanded their capabilities into cloud server management and the pressure they're under to hold their own in the face of rising virtualization and cloud software providers.

Late last year, IDC named CA one of the top two companies in the cloud systems management market, thanks to its chain of acquisition that had allowed it to quickly move into the space. It bought Nimsoft, 3Tera, NetQOS, Oblicore, and Cassatt and used them to build out management capabilities in CA AppLogic, CA Business Service Insight, and CA Service Automation.

But a recent report by Technology Business Research said cloud revenues are not ramping up fast enough to replace declining mainframe product revenues. "Vendors such as CA Technologies and competitor BMC are facing increasing challenges because they are caught between large systems vendors (such as IBM, HP, and Oracle) and smaller, more agile cloud-based systems management vendors," said analyst Jillian Mirandi in the July 26 commentary.

CA's traditional mainframe product line declined 3% in 2011 but increased its operating margin from 57% to 59%. "The mainframe business accounts for 84% of CA Technologies’ profits, while generating slightly more than half of its revenue," she wrote.

She expects the company to concentrate on its mainframe and cloud products throughout 2012-13. "CA will not experience the rapid growth it had hoped through initial cloud-based acquisitions ... we believe the company will achieve very small, but very profitable growth in fiscal year '13," she concluded.

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