In parts one and two of this three-part series, we looked at options for organizations that are currently running vCenter Lab Manager in light of the VMware decision to discontinue additional major releases. In part three, we will explore the option of transitioning to a third-party virtual lab management product.

The Move to the Cloud

The most cost-effective option for transitioning away from vCenter Lab Manager is typically going to be migrating the existing lab environment to a hybrid or public cloud. Cloud migration usually has a lower cost than switching to vCloud director or an equivalent product, and carries a number of distinct benefits and challenges. The challenges can generally be overcome by choosing a provider that fits your use case, and a good understanding of how to manage a virtualized environment in the cloud. The chief differences between cloud computing and traditional on-site virtual machines are explored below, as well as strategies for making the best of a migration.

Benefits:

  • Lower total cost of ownership
  • User empowerment
  • Speed, agility, and scalability
  • Rapid innovation
  • New cloud collaboration models

Considerations:

  • Some effort required to find best-fit cloud provider
  • Permissions model will typically have to be rebuilt from scratch

Lower Total Cost of Ownership

On-premises environments typically use only 20%-30% of their hardware resources at any one time. Not only does the owner have to pay for the unused hardware, but they are responsible for maintenance and regular upgrades. In hybrid or public cloud environments, users only pay for the resources they use, leading to immediate TCO savings. In addition, quotas can be applied to users or groups to manage usage, allowing an organization to accurately estimate month-to-month cost and avoid over consumption.

User Empowerment

Running virtual machines in the cloud allows users to have considerably more control and flexibility. Rather than having to wait on IT to assemble or reset virtual machines, users can directly create, access, and delete complete virtual environments without support. The best cloud providers come with an easy-to-use interface, so even users without extensive technical expertise can create and manage their virtual environments. Additionally, most cloud providers come with a preset or customizable user permissions model, allowing administrators to set the access and powers of other users once and then let them operate independently, without the need for constant oversight or requests for administrative intervention. The ease of use and flexible permissions model eliminates common hold-ups in the dev/test process, enabling users to complete projects with less time and less frustration.

Speed, Agility, and Scalability

Organizations that operate an on-premises virtual lab know all too well that their virtual lab has a finite capacity. When business demands require additional lab resources, administrators must scramble to add additional hardware capacity to the virtual lab. Often, this additional capacity comes at a great cost, and is used for a short duration project.

Using a cloud-based virtual lab, additional resources can be added to the virtual lab with only a few mouse clicks. The fastest cloud providers can provision large multi-machine environments in less than a minute. Users don’t need to wait on IT, and administrators do not have to be concerned with resource acquisition delays or with the amount of time that it takes to deploy those resources in their datacenter. Simply put, moving a virtual lab to the cloud allows an organization greater flexibility, enabling it to quickly respond to changing business needs.

Rapid Innovation

The Software as a Service (SaaS) model bypasses traditional retail releases and the accompanying “big release” product cycle in favor of more regular releases; the standard Agile development model supports significant monthly updates, as well as weekly fix releases to ensure stability. As a result, cloud services evolve much more quickly than traditional software and can integrate customer feedback into the product on short notice.

New Cloud Collaboration Models

Moving virtual environments to the cloud breaks down traditional locational barriers, allowing for greater long-distance collaboration. By sharing access to environments between teams, users on opposite sides of the globe can work on the same environment simultaneously. Changes and fixes can be pushed to other teams in an instance, eliminating the waiting time associated with creating and sending clones of on-premises VMs.

Additional Cloud Migration Considerations:

  • Migration process
  • Security
  • Managing users, environments, and budgets

Migrating a virtual lab to the cloud almost always results in the lowest TCO of all of the methods discussed in this paper. But deciding to migrate is only the first step; there are a number of issues that need to be considered prior to actually doing so.

One of the first considerations that needs to be taken into account is the migration process. There is not an automated process that organizations can use to move their virtual labs off of vCenter Lab Manager and into a cloud environment. Depending on the cloud provider that you choose to use, it may be possible to upload your existing virtual machine images to the cloud without having to rebuild them. However, you will typically have to recreate your permissions model from scratch. This means establishing permissions with the cloud service provider to control who is allowed to create and/or access virtual machines.

If you plan to use any of the hosted virtual machines as an extension to your production network, you must determine how your on-premises network will securely communicate with the hosted servers. This often means putting a proxy at your network perimeter so that you do not have to expose your on-premises network to the Internet. Traffic flowing between on-premises and off-premises servers should be encrypted, so you will need to determine which encryption protocol is best suited to the job.

Finally, you must decide how your users will access environments and use resources in the virtual lab. Depending on how the virtual lab is being used, you might choose to provide Single Sign On capabilities for your users. In other situations it may be better to silo the virtual lab and require users to provide security credentials that are specific to the lab environment. You’ll also need to define usage limits for users, whether you’re on a subscription or pay-as-you-go payment model for your account. Usage limits prevent individual users from using a disproportionate number of VM resources, whether intentionally or inadvertently (such as when an environment is accidentally left running). Some cloud providers allow set up notifications for users or working groups, warning administrators when users or groups near their subscription limits. While setting this up requires additional effort, it can be a significant cost-saver.

In the End

It’s possible to continue using vCenter Lab Manager indefinitely, but doing so will eventually mean operating your virtual lab on an unsupported platform. Given the potential consequences of operating with an unsupported configuration and the cost of switching to another on-premises virtual lab solution, most organizations will ultimately be better off outsourcing their virtual labs to a cloud service provider. Migrating to the cloud presents various challenges, but most of these can be overcome by careful planning and choosing a good cloud provider, and the many benefits of a cloud environment mean that the organization can easily end up spending less and doing more than they were when operating under VMware Lab Manager.

Other Resources

For additional information, you can read our full white paper entitled: Moving Lab Management Environments to the Cloud. We also recently invited author and vExpert David Davis to do a guest blog series and share his thoughts on the Lab Manager EOL. We hope you find it useful.

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