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Managing multiple hypervisors -- the vAdmin's dilemma

Forget about standardizing on one hypervisor -- a mixed hypervisor environment is inevitable, especially if you virtualize servers and desktops. These tips will prepare you.

Mixed hypervisor environments are common today -- with IT pros using one hypervisor to virtualize servers and a different hypervisor to virtualize desktops. Even if you don't have a mixed hypervisor environment today, that day will probably come.

I presented a session on managing multiple hypervisors at the BriForum conference in Chicago earlier this year. In that session, I told attendees that the argument against running multiple hypervisors is forgone. It's time to stop resisting a multi-hypervisor environment and sharpen your skills to manage more than one -- for the good of your career.

The hypervisor is on its way to becoming a commodity in the data center, and the questions of which one is running which servers and which applications won't really matter -- except to the person who has to administrate them all: the vAdmin.

And this is my point: Someone has to manage them all -- either using a utopian single pane of glass (which isn't available, yet) or by gaining the knowledge and experience to manage them using multiple tools.

In my BriForum presentation, I referenced several studies that were done back in 2008 showing that multi-hypervisor environments were common in data centers, even then. Nemertes Research stated in its 2010/2011 Communications and Computing Benchmark Report that over 35% of organizations run multiple hypervisors in the same data center, underscoring the need to support multi-hypervisor workflow and transportable software stacks.

This has become more common with vAdmins hosting their servers on one hypervisor and their VDI environments on another.

Managing multiple hypervisors
So, what's the best way for a server or VDI administrator to handle multiple hypervisors?

It depends on the experience you already have with hypervisors. If you have already mastered VMware ESX, for instance, you need to think about the similarities between that hypervisor and Hyper-V and XenServer. This won't be easy, since vendors like to use their own terminology and models (hmm, wouldn't standards be nice?). But, if you can get the basics down, you already have a good start. The next obstacle is the actual processes and procedures you use to do the daily tasks of your job.

Take a look at how you administer the hypervisor you have today. Do you use a GUI such as vCenter for vSphere, or XenCenter for XenServer? Or, do you like to get back to basics with the Command Line Interpreter (CLI)?

In my presentation, I showed that if you are in the GUI camp, Microsoft is making huge strides in multiple hypervisor management with the next release of Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVVM) 2012. Some of the attendees said I stressed it too much, even suggesting the idea that I am on Microsoft's payroll, but nothing could be further from the truth.

While the CEO of VMware stands up and announces to the IT world that VMware has no interest in providing a way to manage multiple hypervisors, Microsoft and even some small software vendors are giving IT a way to do it. I predict it will be very profitable for them in the near future, because I'm a vAdmin and just like every other vAdmin, I need the right tools to do my job. And if that means using SCVMM, so be it.

I came from the Unix world early in my career, working on Digital Unix and BSD. Given that, I love the CLI, as many of us "old timers" do. Every major Type- 1 (bare-metal) hypervisor produced today has some sort of CLI. In fact, all of the three big vendors -- VMware, Citrix and Microsoft -- have the ability to utilize PowerShell for their administration. This gives IT more of a complete CLI management experience, especially since PowerShell can do amazing things with other aspects of IT and help in your daily computing life.

Ironically, Microsoft makes PowerShell, but VMware was first out of the gate with some substantial cmdlets for vSphere and View -- now called PowerCLI.  Microsoft offered very little  for their remote desktop software or Hyper-V when it was first released, but Microsoft has delivered more advanced cmdlets and Citrix has (finally) brought XenDesktop and XenServer to the PowerShell management arena.

If you're not getting the gist of what I'm saying here, it's plain and simple: learn PowerShell. If you already know it a little, learn more. If you already know a lot, put your focus on the hypervisor cmdlets and the advantages that will come from using them.

I have written other articles on these very topics -- including "A VMware admin's guide to the XenServer command line," "Windows PowerShell cmdlets for XenServer management" and "XenServer management for the VMware administrator." There are also many other readily available tips that can provide you with a vast knowledge base of ideas, scripts and examples.

If the CLI is your best friend, PowerShell will be a close second -- especially when attempting to manage multiple hypervisors. And once the software vendors get around to offering ambidextrous GUIs, vAdmin's will reap the benefits of simpler virtual server and desktop administration.

Mike Nelson has been in IT for over 20 years, with exposure to a very diverse field of technologies. He has devoted over half a decade to virtualization and server-based computing. Nelson is currently a senior analyst at a Fortune 100 company in the U.S. Midwest.

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