Virtualization management tools vendor Vizioncore isn’t the brainchild of latecomers to the virtualization market, hoping to cash in on a hot field: It started out as a consulting firm doing large enterprise VMware deployments in Chicago in 2002, then in 2005, took its in-the-trenches knowledge and became a software vendor, says Chris Akerberg, Vizioncore’s president and COO. Known for disaster recovery expertise, the company’s key products include vRanger Pro (backup utility), vCharter (performance management) and vReplicator(virtual server-image distribution).
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With 10,000-plus customers, ranging from SMBs to some of the largest VMware deployments, Akerberg has a clear view of the practical challenges of virtualization today and understands the related gripes of IT leaders. He also has some interesting opinions on the future of virtualization management tools—including the importance of automation of management tasks. Akerberg recently spoke with CIO.com technology editor Laurianne McLaughlin.
CIO: Why is virtual server migration modeling, where a product like your vCharter Pro maps out potential arrangements of VMs spread across a pool of physical servers, important to enterprises right now?
Akerberg: “Migration modeling is an example where thousands of customers said this was valuable. People have to make sure they don’t create a problem while trying to solve one.”
CIO: Where is modeling of virtual server environments headed next?
Akerberg: “Into the automation world. We’re going to try and take away the tasks you’d ordinarily need a human body to take care of. Take out the manual intervention, but leave in the human decision-making process.”
“Then we’ll start to look at whether we can create intelligent models on our own and give recommendations [on virtual enterprise arrangements that work well].”
CIO: What’s the hardest part of the virtualized enterprise to analyze and monitor right now? Are certain applications tough to monitor or problems tough to spot?
Akerberg: “It’s not a specific application as much as the end-user and end-user satisfaction. It can be hard to understand how the virtualization layer is affecting the end-user experience. It could be the application, the configuration of the virtual hardware, like the switch. That’s why we want to look at end-to-end performance.”
CIO: Do your management tools offer that end-to-end view now?
Akerberg: “No. That’s the next evolution. That’s a big pain point we want to move toward.”
CIO: Can your tools integrate with tools from the physical hardware world that show end-to-end performance?
Akerberg:“We are looking at ways to complement the Mercury tools of the world. We are also looking to do that with Quest, our parent company, which is a monitoring software vendor in its own right.”
CIO: What do you consider the final frontier for virtualization, in terms of apps that CIOs would like to run on VMS now but typically do not, due to performance concerns? ERP? Databases?
Akerberg:“Those are the classic examples of very I/O intensive applications, but also CAD, engineering and graphic design servers.”
“With the pure databases, we are seeing more companies finally virtualize a lot of their databases. They asked us to help them do pure consistent backup of those databases,” [a request that resulted in Vizioncore adding support to its vRanger Pro product for VSS (volume shadow copy services) for Microsoft databases such as Exchange], Akerberg adds.
“Clearly, there’s a lot more virtualizing of databases in midsize enterprises…in the large enterprises, it’s the sheer volume of those databases stopping them.”
CIO: How is the intense battle between VMware, Citrix and Microsoft this summer affecting your business?
Akerberg: “We are an enhancement technology. Our business doesn’t thrive without an installed base. Citrix and Microsoft, we’re having conversations with them, but right now, we are focused on VMware.”
CIO: Have you come across many enterprises waiting on virtualization plans because they’re waiting on Microsoft’s products?
Akerberg: “I really have not heard that very often. There’s a lot of SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) looking at the pricepoints. There’s no mystery that’s where the adoption of Microsoft’s technology will be the quickest.”
CIO: Who do you consider your closest competitor and why?
Akerberg: “The file-level backup companies, Symantec, Tivoli, Legato. It’s often our best competition because it can back up VMs, not in the most efficient way, but people may say ‘It’s good enough.'”
CIO: Where is the virtualization management tools market headed next?
Akerberg: “You’ll see much more granularity in what the tools can do, very similar to what people are used to seeing in the physical tools. Also, automation, tying everything together, will be a really big driver. You’ll see some announcements from us later in the year.”
CIO: When you say automation, do you mean artificial intelligence or something else?
Akerberg: “VM Lifecycle management. Automating our vRanger and vReplicator tools with if/then statements.”
CIO: Some storage vendors say there’s a looming problem where enterprises aren’t allocating enough storage to VMs. Do you agree?
Akerberg: “There are people for a long time who’ve over-allocated per VM. Now they’re kind of stuck there. Maybe they didn’t do the right intelligence, or were too cautious. This is a big issue in the backup space for VMs. That’s where the de-duping technology comes in.” [To address customer desires to make backup storage space efficient, VizionCore works with Data Domain to sell boxes with installed software to help IT understand what’s on physical servers and save storage space, for example, by avoiding saving multiple copies of operating systems, Akerberg adds.]
CIO: Do you think that IT has in fact been over-cautious on storage for VMs?
Akerberg: “I do. We’re working on a product built into our suite that will go in and do an inventory, by the VM, to help people free up a lot of expensive SAN storage. As tools get more sophisticated, companies can make intelligent decisions on what to allocate. Let’s at least make sure what they have they’re using properly.”
CIO: Do you see any unique challenges for midsize enterprises with managing virtualization?
Akerberg: “Midsize shops don’t have pre-existing investments for tools that they must use. A large enterprise is caught asking ‘what is the product we already use here for physical work?’ The issue is whether an enterprise decides to invest more or get by with what they have for physical [servers].”