Physical appliance makers are creating virtual versions of their wares and selling them as "certified production ready" at the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace. I looked at Kace's Virtual KBox 1200 Systems Management Appliance and found it able-but far from easy-to implement.
Based on my work with the virtual and physical incarnations of the Kace appliance, I recommend that IT managers think of virtual appliances as a "first version" rather than a mature product.
The V-KBox 1200, like the real-world KBox 1200, is a system management tool that provides software and hardware inventory information, rudimentary asset reporting, basic software distribution, patch management, a trouble ticketing system, and an extensive reporting tool. The physical KBox is explicitly designed to be up and running in hours without the need for extensive implementation consulting that is normally associated with enterprise-class system management tools.
Our experience (and this project did call on the talents of most of the labs staff) was that the V-KBox needs significantly more effort to install than the physical system. Still, for small to midsize organizations, the V-KBox is a well-rounded tool that delivers useful system management information that fits neatly in a virtualized data center.
The V-KBox is available only from Kace but can be requested through the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace. The V-KBox is "certified production ready," a VMware certification program that is slated to be replaced in March with the "VMware Ready" certification. V-KBox had to successfully pass VMware compliance tests to be listed as a certified production-ready product.
The V-KBox that I received was a 32-bit version that had to be converted to run on our 64-bit VMware Virtual Center 3.5 infrastructure. I point out this cumbersome step because it shows a general weakness in the virtual appliance acquisition process. There was not enough information gathered during the handoff from VMware's Virtual Appliance Marketplace.
I was expecting the V-KBox to come in an OVF (Open Virtualization Format), platform-independent technology used to package virtual machines. Instead, V-KBox was delivered to me as a series of VMDK files (VMware's Virtual Machine Disk Format), intended for use in VMware environments. Kace provides instructions for using the VMware Converter utility to create a V-KBox appliance that runs in a VMware ESX environment.
After creating and configuring the V-KBox appliance, I was able to use it to manage both physical and virtual machines.
As with the physical KBox appliance, the virtual version depends on agents that must be deployed on all managed systems-agents that add complexity to the management and maintenance of the Kace system. However, two worthwhile benefits derived from the agents softened my dismay.
The first is that the agents worked well across a variety of platforms to provide accurate system information. I was able to collect information from my Windows Server 2003 servers and Windows XP and Vista desktop systems, as well as my Mac mini and Mac Pro machines. The agents can also be installed on Linux and Solaris systems.