In early 2011, VMware announced its decision to discontinue additional major releases of vCenter Lab Manager. This leaves organizations that are currently running Lab Manager at a crossroads. They need to determine whether it’s best for them to continue using the virtual lab infrastructure that is already in place, or consider other options for their virtual lab after the product’s end of life.

In Part 1 of this three-part series, we’re going to look at two options. The first is the business as usual or “do nothing” approach, and the second is upgrading your lab infrastructure and using an on-premises cloud management solution.

You Can Stick to Business as Usual

Even in light of the VMware announcement, there is nothing stopping an organization from continuing to use VMware Lab Manager indefinitely. Existing Lab Manager Perpetual Licenses will remain valid even after support for Lab Manager 4 comes to an end in May 2013. However, continuing to use Lab Manager may not be the best long-term solution. Let’s examine benefits and considerations for maintaining status quo and doing nothing:

Benefits:

  • No upfront cost
  • No retraining necessary

Considerations:

  • Lack of support leaves an organization vulnerable if problems arise
  • Solution remains static as competing solutions make advances in features and design
  • Eventual obsolescence

Lab Manager is typically used by large, enterprise class organizations that depend heavily on their virtual labs. While vCenter Lab Manager 4 has proven itself to be stable and reliable, support issues can and do occur. Continuing to use Lab Manager after it is no longer supported can put an organization in a situation in which they have nowhere to go for help when problems develop. As such, organizations that are currently using Lab Manager should begin planning for when and how they will eventually transition away from using the software. 
Lab Manager will become less useful and flexible as computing technology advances. In particular, the fields of virtualization and cloud computing have grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years, and rapid growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. As new features and capabilities are developed in competing solutions, Lab Manager will become increasingly obsolete.

You Can Upgrade the Existing Infrastructure to an On-Premises Cloud Management Solution

Another option is to simply upgrade to an on-premises cloud management solution. Although vCenter Lab Manager is being discontinued, VMware will continue to provide VM Management functionality through vCloud Director, their on-premises solution. Since vCloud Director features similar capabilities to those found in vCenter Lab Manager and offers a free upgrade to existing Lab Manager users, this is likely the most appealing choice for an organization migrating from Lab Manager. However, system complexity and high costs means vCloud Director and other on-premises clouds may be overkill for all but the largest organizations. Let’s examine benefits and considerations for deploying an on-premises cloud management solution:

Benefits:

  • Ownership
  • Security

Considerations:

  • Difficult upgrade path
  • Significant system complexity
  • Ancillary costs can lead to high TCO

vCloud Director includes some of the same features found in vCenter Lab Manager, and can continue to be used in private cloud environments, but also adds multi-tenant capabilities that are similar to those used by commercial cloud providers. Like all on-premises solutions, it allows users to have full control over their VMs and host machines, and offers the security of a single, network-isolated environment.

These benefits and capabilities come at a cost. An on-premises deployment is not cheap, with just the base license for 25 VMs costing thousands of dollars. However, VMware customers who are active on Support and Subscription are able to trade their existing vCenter Lab Manager licenses for vCloud Director Licenses without incurring any additional costs.

However, the upgrade path to vCloud Director will be difficult. There is currently no migration document or tools to aid in the transition from Lab Manager, and VMware recommends migrating only critical data. In fact, VMware suggests starting an entirely new virtual lab on vCloud Director rather than migrating at all. Migration is even more difficult with other on-premises options, and a complete migration of existing labs will simply not be an option.

Additionally, there are indirect costs associated with the adoption of vCloud Director. For instance, an organization will likely have to dedicate budget to re-train their IT staff, as vCloud Director is more complex than vCenter lab Manager. For comparison, see the figures below. Figure A shows a simple Lab Manager deployment. The Lab Manager client communicates with a Lab Manager Server, which in turn communicates with vSphere by means of a vCenter Server.

vSphere

Figure A: A VMware Lab Manager deployment is relatively straightforward.

In Figure B, you can see an example of a bare-bones vCloud Director deployment. Like Lab Manager, vCloud Director communicates with vSphere. However, you’ll notice that the communications take place through the vCloud API. In the figure, the vCloud API is linked to an NFS Server, a vCloud Director Database, and the vCloud Director Web console.

vCloud Director and vSphere

Figure B: A basic vCloud Director deployment contains greater structural complexity, due in large part to its use of modular components.

vCloud Director is designed so that a number of modular components can work together to provide the required functionality. For instance, the vCenter Chargeback module provides the ability to issue chargebacks to individual departments for the infrastructure resources that they have consumed. This allows the organization to customize their private cloud, but it also means there will be a lack of standardized documentation and numerous separate components to oversee. Organizations will typically incur costs associated with developing and deploying the vCloud Director infrastructure and training their employees to manage it, even if they obtain the vCloud Director licenses for free. vCloud Director’s modular setup is designed to allow for highly complex workloads on sprawling VM deployments. While ideal for the largest enterprise operations, it may be overly complex for the typical Lab Manager use case, resulting in paying for unused functionality after the transition.

In addition to the intangible costs outlined above, organizations might also incur additional licensing fees. Some of the modules are essentially free. For instance, vCenter Orchestrator is included with vCenter Server. However, there are additional costs associated with other modules. For example, the vCenter Chargeback module costs upwards of a thousand dollars for a license that covers 25 managed servers.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about a second option: Transitioning to a Competitive Virtual Lab Product. If you’d like to read ahead, you can reference our white paper entitled: Moving Lab Management Environments to the Cloud.

If you’ve had experience, successful or not, with building an in-house cloud or sticking with business as usual, leave us a comment below. We’d like to hear your story.

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