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VDI and systems management -- one tough puzzle

Some virtual desktop products integrate with enterprise management suites, but most VDI relies on its own consoles. Is that so bad?

Many IT pros want to view their entire VDI environment through one console, but virtual desktops vendors require the use of separate management consoles, a strategy that adds complexity to desktop environments.

Within the past six months, both VMware Inc. and Quest Software Inc. have integrated their virtual desktop products (View 4.5 and Quest vWorkspace Version 7.2, respectively) with Microsoft's systems management offerings. Citrix has been tied to Microsoft Systems Center since XenDesktop Version 4 in 2009.

[Vendors] care about owning the management space -- that's where the money is.

Dave Bartoletti, analyst, Taneja Group

But despite offering some integration with Systems Center, companies such as VMware, Quest and Citrix still push the use of their proprietary management software -- in some cases, requiring multiple consoles. For example, Citrix customers have long complained that XenDesktop administration is difficult because there are separate consoles for individual tasks. Citrix answered the demand last year by adding two new management consoles in XenDesktop: Desktop Studio for building, deploying, and rolling back images, and a Web-based management console called Desktop Director for help desk-focused operations.

VMware View 4.5's integration with SCOM came through a management pack that lets IT monitor View components, and it includes the ability to start View services and receive View alerts when something is in trouble with the host servers.

"What [VMware] offers with Systems Center is very limited," said Dave Bartoletti, an analyst at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group. "The real performance management, the lab management-type stuff, they keep that in their own software because they know no customer wants to give that stuff up."

VMware's two virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) management consoles are View Manager and View Composer. Composer is a feature of the Premier Edition suite, which lets administrators manage hundreds of virtual desktops using one image. All desktops linked to a master image can be patched or updated through View Manager, which comes as part of the Enterprise Edition suite.

Meanwhile, the dozens of other desktop virtualization vendors in the market don't integrate their products with enterprise management software at all. "The smaller players -- Desktone, Virtual Bridges, Pano Logic -- they are trying to steer clear of Microsoft, and they're focused on getting their own management software sold," Bartoletti said.

If you add to the multiple virtual desktop management consoles the extra consoles for user personalization software add-ons, WAN acceleration and other technologies, you'll have created a VDI management Frankenstein.

The case for separate VDI management
That's a problem for many IT pros, but some administrators actually prefer to keep their virtual desktops separate from systems management. Nathan McBride, executive director of IT at AMAG Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass., uses Virtual Computer's NxTop client-side virtualization offering and will not tie it to Systems Center because he said he thinks that would pose a security risk.

"We keep all of our enterprise systems separate to prevent breach hopping in the event that a system was entered by an intruder," McBride said. "It's only tie-in is to our Active Directory environment for authentication purposes."

Organizations with simple virtual desktop environments and a few golden images to manage don't have much of a need to integrate with Microsoft Systems Center software, said Dustin Fennell, CIO of Scottsdale Community College in Arizona.

Fennell uses XenDesktop and XenApp and has to manage only about eight golden images for nonpersistent virtual desktops, so a Systems Center tie-in isn't necessary, he said. "But if we gave every person a persistent desktop and pushed out updates through Active Directory or reimaging, we would need a way to do those changes," he said.

For the foreseeable future, virtualizing desktops will require cobbling together multiple management systems. "These companies -- VMware -- they don't care about owning the hypervisor space anymore. They care about owning the management space," Bartoletti said. "That's where the money is."

Let us know what you think about this story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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