In the first of a series of reviews I'm writing about VMware vSphere 4, I focused on important new features such as the vNetwork Distributed Switch and improved management tools.
As a product reviewer, that's my job-to focus on the product. But as an industry analyst, one of the big changes at VMware that caught my eye was the drastic improvements made to the VMware Marketplace for virtual appliances.
One of the beautiful things about virtualization is the ability to create virtual appliances that wrap the operating system, application, disk and other configuration choices into a neat, isolated bundle.
I like virtual appliances because they significantly reduce application installation and distribution costs: Because the virtual appliance is already installed when it gets to you, you don't have to go through the expensive, one-time step-up process. And thanks to some standardization work that I'll touch on in a moment, virtual appliances are relatively cheap to move around in a virtual data center, even among VMware, Hyper-V and Xen-based virtualization environments.
The change in the VMware virtual appliance marketplace is twofold.
First, it has been integrated into the vCenter Server interface, which makes it simple to access the virtual appliances. Second, the marketplace has been almost completely revamped. Links to products actually lead to a virtual appliance that can be downloaded within the VMware domain. In the previous version of the marketplace, I was more often than not taken to dead ends on the appliance makers' Websites. For those of you who were soured on the idea of exploring virtual appliances, this new marketplace should change your attitude.
How about implementation? Virtual appliances are like starter kits; they are really meant to be used as a low-cost (to you, the IT manager) way to quickly get a taste for what this or that virtual appliance can do in your environment. To actually deploy production-level versions of these products-which range from firewalls and intrusion detection systems to capacity planning and VM performance management tools-you'll be spending some time creating your own virtual appliances that are tweaked to work perfectly in your data center.
Installing your new virtual appliance, will, in most cases, be much easier because of the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force).
All of the virtual appliances I looked at in the VMware marketplace are provided in an OVF (Open Virtualization Format) package. In this method, all aspects of the virtual machine, or multiple virtual machines running together, are described. This means that the CPU, memory and disk, along with all other virtual hardware requirements, are provided with the virtual appliance. With a little practice, most IT managers will be able to deploy virtual appliances in OVF packages with little or no manual intervention.
To keep the marketplace interesting for IT managers, VMware needs to make sure that product offerings are kept up-to-date. Further, it would be nice to see support, maintenance, advice and user group links added to each of the products. Even if these links lead off to vendor or community-supported sites, it would be convenient for potential customers to see these service links right next to the offered product.
And it's not too soon for VMware to add product lifecycle management to the marketplace. A "new products" highlight area for recently added virtual appliances could be joined by a "staying power" category that features tried-and-true performers. This kind of product differentiation could be provided by a third party. But for premium data center products, I'd rather get this kind of information from the company that is demonstrating the operational ability to make it happen, and that's VMware.
Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com.