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Virtual machine lifecycle management tools meet growing desktop demand

Virtual desktops offer several benefits, including the ability to any of the following:

 

  • Run multiple incompatible workloads on the same machine.
  • Create "golden desktops" to fit the requirements of specific groups of people.
  • Deploy an entire desktop environment by simply copying a file.
  • Choose the best place to host a staff member's workload (local PC, local PC blade, blade computer in the datacenter or on a general-purpose system in the datacenter).

On the other hand, virtual desktops are creating some interesting new problems for IT administrators whose goals are to maintain uniformity throughout the organization's IT infrastructure. Since virtual machine (VM) files can easily be copied, it is possible that a copy will end up in an unauthorized location, and could have different applications, tools and software updates installed. How can IT administrators keep track of what's running where, ensure that software licensing rules are being followed and maintain security and accountability?

In the past, these concerns were more manageable. An organization's IT group could conduct a physical inventory by visiting every machine on a regular basis. Now it's difficult to do this when VMs have the ability to move from place to place and be copied or updated without the IT staff knowing about it.

What should IT do?
It would be ideal if every VM file created could be logged. That log

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would contain all of the information needed to track and maintain the image. It would be easy to detect sibling (exact copies) and child (updated copies) of VMs. It would also be possible to control when these VMs could execute, where they could execute and even which staff member could execute them. Therefore, it is necessary to take inventory of what's actually running. This inventory should include version, patch level, license number, time of installation, retirement data and usage restrictions (who, when and where it's allowed to run) for the following:

 

  • Operating system
  • Applications
  • Application frameworks and data management

Helpful virtual machine lifecycle management tools
Some suppliers are meeting these needs by offering virtual machine lifecycle management tools. Following is a quick round-up of available tools and what they offer:

Citrix Systems Inc.
Citrix XenDesktop offers a number of capabilities that can help IT administrators manage the lifecycle of virtual desktops. Citrix makes it possible to segment a virtual desktop into operating systems, applications and user data. Each of these can be managed separately. Depending on the needs of the person using the virtual desktop, these segments can be accessed using Citrix's well-known virtual access software. The segments are then streamed down to client systems or combined into a VM that can be run on a local desktop or laptop computer, PC blade or on a blade computer back in the organization's datacenter.

Scalable Software Ltd.
Scalable Software Ltd. offers Survey and WinINSTALL. Survey is designed to search out IT assets; WinINSTALL makes it possible to install and manage virtual desktop configurations.

VDIworks
VDIworks, formally the software arm of ClearCube, offers the VDIworks Virtual Desktop Platform. This tool has many functions including universal discovery, health and asset monitoring, and strong reporting capabilities. Connection brokering, virtual machine management and thin client management are also benefits. VDIworks Virtual Desktop Platform supports VMware Server and ESX, Microsoft Virtual Server and Hyper-V as well as the Xen hypervisor, which can be found in products from Citrix, Novell/SUSE, Oracle, Red Hat and Virtual Computer.

Virtual Computer Inc.
Virtual Computer is a newcomer to the industry. It has developed NxTop Suppliers from Scalable, Neocleus, Virtual Computer and others, allowing the organization to deal with the operating systems, applications and personalization that users create in a standard manageable fashion. Patch management, application deployment, system configurations (printers, drive mappings and registry changes) as well as various user settings can be noted and controlled with this tool.

VMware Inc.
As with Citrix, VMware offers a complete set of virtual desktop lifecycle management tools.

Other options
There are a number of suppliers, including Acronis, Fortisphere, Inc., and Vkernel Corp., who have developed virtual machine lifecycle management technology that targets virtual servers. Although managing virtual desktops is not their goal, these tools could be pressed into service to discover and manage VM files containing virtual desktop environments.

There are many virtual machine lifecycle management tools available in this space that can ease the pain of new management challenges rising with the growth of VM copies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   
 
Dan Kusnetzky
Dan Kusnetzky is the founder and principle analyst of the Kusnetzky Group LLC, a market research firm focused on system software, open source software and virtualization technology. Prior to that he served as Executive VP of Corporate and Marketing Strategy for Open-Xchange, VP of system software research for International Data Corporation and Intel/UNIX business manager for Digital Equipment Corporation.
 


 

This was first published in January 2009

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