Ten virtualisation vendors to watch in 2010

It's not all about VMware, Microsoft and Citrix

Smaller vendors continue to add to the overall manageability of virtual infrastructures. Looking beyond VMware, Microsoft and Citrix, here are 10 virtualisation tools companies to watch in 2010:

VKernel For most vendors, promising customers they can run more VMs on fewer servers and save money if they use your tool is risky if you're talking about cutting-edge technology. When you're talking about a capacity analyser, a tool that takes inventory of your servers and computing resources and figures out how many applications of a given size you can run, it's not that revolutionary an idea. You can download tools like it for free, if all you want is to benchmark your laptop. In the virtual world, however, capacity management is something of a black art – not because few people have thought of it, but because few have built tools to look at both the physical and virtual servers and see how many of one will overwhelm the other. VKernel's product works on both VMware and Microsoft's Hyper-V. Without detailed capacity planning based on real data – not imagination – large-scale virtualisation of production systems is not practical, according to Chris Wolf, analyst at The Burton Group.

Hyper9 Hyper9 broadly promises to help customers "achieve higher virtualisation management maturity to meet more sophisticated business requirements". Look into the details, though, and the benefits become more clear, Bowker says. Hyper9's Virtual Environment Optimisation keeps track of workloads and virtual machines, categorising them by geography, business unit or other criteria, and then reports on both performance levels and resource utilisation. In other words, it tracks who is using how much of the available compute power and monitors performance problems to real or virtual sources to make troubleshooting easier. Says Bowker: You can't optimise anything without seeing what it's doing first.

DynamicOps DyamicOps breaks ranks with most other V-management vendors by looking at both server and desktop infrastructures, as well as across VM platforms. It is also one of the few companies in the market launched by an end-user company that liked its home-grown management app so much executives decided to make it a product. The DynamicOps technology was born at Credit Suisse as a web-based mechanism to let business units provision their own virtual resources, with built-in limits on the amount of resources they could demand and end-of-life requirements, too. Because the workflow behind the portal isn't tied to one vendor, it's not difficult to tweak to cover desktop VMs as well as servers. The commercial version promises quicker deployment of VMs and more control for IT, which is able to create standardised images and access limits, and track configuration and behaviour of each VM through its operational life.

Embotics Embotics focuses on limiting VM sprawl – a headache many virtualisation administrators complain can eat up much of the time and resource savings virtual servers deliver in the first place. The company's V-Commander runs the same kind of discovery and inventory management scans that physical network managers rely on, and allows users to create policies that treat provisioning as a life-cycle issue rather than a one-time event. It is designed to monitor VMs, classify them according to groups affected by different policies and automate their consolidation or recycling. The product works with VMware, Microsoft and Citrix VMs, and feeds data to third-party systems-management tools to limit sprawl in management consoles as well as VMs.

HyTrust HyTrust won Best of Show and a Gold Award for security and virtualisation at VMworld 2009 for the HyTrust Appliance, which is designed to create a single point of control for virtual infrastructures – including access, policy-based management, security and compliance. Because its management-policy abilities are object-based, HyTrust policies integrate with existing management structures, network and storage systems, using standard protocols. HyTrust also has the ability to get as granular as you want in controlling user access, application performance and IP address use, as well as providing heavy duty audits of what all those objects are doing. "Management is certainly a big missing piece," Illuminata's Haff says, "and compliance is becoming a bigger part of that."

Catbird Catbird, a direct competitor of HyTrust, also won awards at VMworld for VM security apps that range from policy compliance to network access to security assessment to securing cloud-computing links. Its capabilities are built on the Catbird V-Agent, a software-based security agent that can run as a virtual machine or within a virtual machine, keeping track of a VM's activity, tracking communication between the VM and its host, and streaming data to a central control portal so none is lost when the VM or the agent shut down. That adds flexibility to the system, Catbird says and allows the network of agents to expand or contract smoothly with changes in the VM infrastructure.

Netuitive Netuitive focuses on making performance management simpler by automating the process of setting performance thresholds and baselines, eliminating many of the false-positive alarms network managers spend their days chasing. The basis of that automation is an analysis engine called the Netuitive Service Analyser, which monitors the behaviour of both physical and virtual machines and creates a set of baselines it defines as "normal". Once those are set, Netuitive intercepts and analyses alarms, sending its own alerts to administrators only when "normal" (rather than optimal performance) levels fall. That ability continues to be Netuitive's strength, Burton Group's Wolf says. But many larger, more mainstream systems management vendors are adding similar physical and virtual capabilities as well, making that "normal" part of the management market far more crowded.

Liquidware Labs Though desktop virtualisation is less sexy and far more problematic – due to the number of machines to be virtualised, if nothing else – it is becoming more mainstream in concept. Making it more mainstream in practice will depend on how well desktop virtualisation vendors emulate the performance and capabilities of standalone PCs, according to Andi Mann, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. Liquidware Labs' Profile Unity is designed to do exactly that, allowing individual end users to create and store – on a server – profiles, configuration settings and documents so they can get the same "desktop" every time they log in to the company's virtual desktop infrastructure. The profile management system also monitors activity of the virtual desktops for compliance reporting, security and service-level monitoring. Liquidware also does capacity assessments of existing desktops to let you know which machines are fit for XenDesktop or VMware View, and which are not.

AppSense AppSense, a direct competitor to Liquidware Labs, also focuses on user profiles, referring to its configuration storage and management system as a way to let users keep "personality" with their virtual desktops. Both companies promise quicker, more consistent provisioning and better customisation. AppSense focuses more on user environment and responsiveness, storing user data where it can be most quickly retrieved to reduce login times, and promising to add not only the ability for end users to store documents on the server but also, sometime later this year, applications as well. "AppSense is a company in the right place at the right time," Wolf says. "They offer a mature product suite focused around ensuring a user's personal settings remain consistent across a variety of delivery mechanisms, such as a physical desktop, virtual desktop and XenApp session. AppSense is closely aligned with Citrix and I would not be surprised if Citrix eventually acquired them."

RingCube Another potential player in desktop virtualisation is RingCube, whose vDesk Virtual Desktop Solution and RingCube Workspace Virtualisation Engine offer what Wolf calls a cost-effective alternative to traditional desktop virtualisation. "The technology is complementary to VMware and Citrix," he says, "making it a good complement to existing plans, or for organisations that need to address immediate needs while waiting on further maturity and more competitive pricing from VMware and Citrix."

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