Is VMware vCloud Director an effective Enterprise IT as a Service Platform?

One of the key themes of VMworld 2010 was “IT as a Service”. IT as a Service is simply the next logical step beyond virtualization. The key parts of the evolution from virtualization to IT as a Service is that IT as a Service involves a self-service aspect where business constituents can select “services” that are then automatically provisioned and delivered to them, and the notion of secure multi-tenancy within an enterprise’s data center for the purpose of separating the environments of multiple business units, departments or divisions much in the same way that a public cloud vendor must separate the environments of Coke and Pepsi.

At VMworld 2010 VMware announced the availability of vCloud Director its management solution designed to allow enterprises to build an IT as a Service capability on top of the vSphere platform. For those familiar with VMware’s previous management offerings, one way to look at vCloud Director is that it is a combination of functionality from Lab Manager, LifeCycle Manager (now withdrawn from the market), and Chargeback,  with multi-tenancy and the ability to publish a service catalog through a web portal added in.  vCloud Request Manager is sold as an add-on to vCloud Director to provide workflow and policy management. A diagram depicting the basic functionality of vCloud Director is below.

vCloud Director

Interestingly enough, there are two use cases for vCloud Director. One is for public cloud vendors who are offering vCloud based IaaS offerings to use vCloud Director as the “factory” to automatically provision services when customers order them through the web portal of the cloud vendor. That use case will be covered in a separate post.

The use case of interest in this post is whether or not enterprises should and will adopt vCloud Director as the muti-tenant provisioning layer on top of vSphere – allowing IT to become that service provider to the business in the same way that a Cloud providers are service providers to their customers.

Criteria for an IT as a Service Platform

  • Most enterprises who embark upon an IT as a Service initiative start with the concept of a Service Catalog. The Service Catalog is the sizzle that sells the initiative, as this is how IT sees itself competing with external cloud providers, and this is how the business constituents see themselves getting self-service from IT which is presumed to be more convenient than the current labor intensive service request process. The issue with vCloud Director is that it does not have a very robust service catalog when one compares its features to those offered by Quest (Cloud Automation Platform), newScale, DynamicOps, ManageIQ, Platform Computing, and Embotics
  • Management controls that allow for policy based self service to allow for “controlled productivity”. Most enterprises are not willing to offer unbridled self-service to their constituents, but rather need to layer governance and policies on who gets to provision what for how long. vCloud Director does not include this level of governance and control and these features are offered by the vendors mentioned directly above. VMware does offer vCloud Request Manager to address these needs, but that is an add-on product to vCloud Director itself.
  • When most enterprises start an IT as a Service initiative, the intention is to be able to offer services that end up being composed of resources beyond what is virtualized via VMware today. The desire is to have an IT as a Service strategy that is open to multiple hypervisors, to being able to provision a service on physical hardware, and even to be able to provision services across resources internal to the enterprise as well as on resources in a public cloud (that may or may not be vCloud compatible). vCloud Director is VMware vSphere specific solution.
  • An IT as a Service initiative is generally not pursued in isolation of the provisioning solutions that the enterprise already has. Many enterprises have solutions like Microsoft SCCM, BMC BladeLogic, HP Server Automation, Citrix Provisioning Server, NetApp FlexClone and Microsoft AppV. vCloud Director does not integrate with any of these in-place third party solutions, and this level of integration is offered by many of the third party alternatives mentioned above.
  • vCloud Director is a descendant of Lab Manager and LifeCyle Manager. As such it relies upon VM images and vApps as the entities that define encapsulated services. This is not necessarily the right thing to do. It might be far more productive to create the image at service provisioning time by relying upon a model driven tool like the one offered by rPath. This would dramatically reduce the number and variations of images, and allow for much more certainty as to exactly what software comprises each service.

Enterprise Recommendations

vCloud Director is an important step forward for VMware in its evolution towards becoming a serious player in the management software business on its own virtualization platform. For an enterprise that is or intends to be a 100% VMware shop, vCloud Director might in fact be a good “factory” with which to build the lower layers of an IT as a Service initiative. However, even in the case of a 100% VMware shop, vCloud Director is lacking a robust Service Catalog. VMware focused enterprises should look to a vendor like newScale that offers a robust Service Catalog that is compatible with both vCloud Director and other methods of provisioning a service. Enterprises choosing vCloud Director should also look at rPath for model based provisioning and management of the actual services as this is a far more manageable and scalable approach than relying upon images and vApps.

For enterprises looking to implement IT as a Service initiatives that are not tied to VMware as a virtualization platform, or that want to make sure that every service can get provisioned (even those that require physical hardware) need to combine a robust service catalog with IT as a Service offerings that offer broad platform support and deep integration with existing IT tools. Such vendors include Quest (Cloud Automation Platform acquired via Surgient),  Platform Computing, newScale, Eucalyptus, ManageIQ, Embotics, rPath. and DynamicOps.

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