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Managing Hyper-V with Citrix Essentials vs. Microsoft SCVMM

If you're trying to figure out whether to manage Hyper-V with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager or Citrix Essentials, this tip pegs the essential selection criteria.

By now, most of you have heard of Hyper-V from Microsoft, and most of your customers have probably been experimenting with it in their environments. If you haven't heard of Hyper-V, you're going to hear much more in the next few months with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 this past August. There's no better time than now for solutions providers to start thinking about how they can build services around managing, deploying and implementing Hyper-V.

More resources on managing Hyper-V:
Microsoft Hyper-V vs. VMware ESX cheat sheet

Hyper-V live migration boosts Microsoft's server virtualization play

Microsoft Hyper-V R2 technology services opportunities

Choosing a tool to manage Hyper-V can be a tricky task, but this article makes it easier for you to recommend a product by outlining the key differences between two popular virtualization management tools -- Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) and Citrix Essentials.

It's best to first document what your customers want out of a virtualization management tool. Here's a list of things that I've always looked for in this type of product:

  • Provisioning -- The management tool must have functionality to do a hands off provision of a virtual machine (VM).
  • Storage management -- Almost every virtualization environment that has more than one host uses shared storage. And because storage is one of the most important components to a farm's health and VM performance, storage management is a must-have feature.
  • Lifecycle management -- Being able to set up a lifecycle for your customers' VMs helps with costs and overall management of your customer's virtual environment. I don't know how many times I've gone into a customer's site and seen that it has hundreds of VMs that haven't been accessed in months. And the developers or teams that had used them didn't even know that they still existed.
  • Workflow -- It's the year 2009. Running around to get approvals to create a VM is so 1990s. It's time to automate the VM creation process and take some pressure off of your customers' help desks and administrators.

I also look for basic components (performance, role-based access, etc.), but when it comes to a virtualization management system, the components in the list above are the features that carry the most weight. Depending on your customers' needs, they may use the built-in tools in Hyper-V, but I'm willing to bet that they'll outgrow these basic tools pretty quickly.

Citrix Essentials and Microsoft SCVMM are similar in terms of what they do, but at the same time, they're very different and actually complement each other quite well. SCVMM has the ability to do provisioning and some lifecycle management right out of the box. For provisioning, a solutions provider can create a template and deploy the template to host servers that are managed by the SCVMM server. You can also set up the Self Service website that allows your customers to do self deployment to a host for the different types of systems they need.

Since SCVMM is written with PowerShell, every aspect of management can be scripted and automated. For example, to create a workflow in SCVMM, you can work with your customer to implement Microsoft's SharePoint Server and use the workflow engine to create a custom solution.

Citrix Essentials comes in two different versions: Enterprise and Platinum. The main difference between the two Citrix Essentials versions is that Platinum can perform automated lab management. If your customers are required to automate lab builds or need fine-grained access controls and/or an image builder, then they should go with the Platinum version.

Citrix has added on to the features that SCVMM has for provisioning and lifecycle management. From a provisioning standpoint, Citrix Essentials supports Hyper-V and XenServer platforms and have the ability to stream an image to a bare metal server. Citrix Essentials can also create a single image using Citrix's vDisk technology. The vDisk technology allows your customers to stream a stateless image to a virtual machine or to server hardware.

With the lifecycle features in Citrix Essentials, each environment built can be automated by using the workflow tools. Once the environment is certified by your customer team, it is then migrated to the next stage in the application lifecycle.

Citrix Essentials also brings in workflow functionality right out of the box. With workflow, you can work with your customers to automate mundane and repetitive tasks, and because Essentials uses PowerShell, you can automate nearly any tasks in an application that also uses PowerShell. An example of where this automation could be extremely valuable to your customers is in the creation of a new user in an environment. Let's say that the new user is a developer in India and uses a virtual desktop in your virtual desktop infrastructure environment. Using Citrix Essentials workflow tools, you could automate the creation of the user account, email box, application access and the virtual desktop and virtual test lab environments that the user will need.

The real standout component in Citrix Essentials that SCVMM doesn't have is the StorageLink storage management feature. With StorageLink, you can work with a customer to directly integrate its existing storage area network environment and use native storage capabilities, including cloning, snapshots and deduplication technology. You would also be able to do full and thin provisioning with its storage array.

Hyper-V is going to start gaining substantial ground in the hypervisor market, and there are multiple options you can bring to your customers for management tools. You have the flexibility to start with the basic tools in Hyper-V, use SCVMM for more features, or use SCVMM with Citrix Essentials to meet customers' needs for Hyper-V implementation.

About the expert
Jason Kappel is an infrastructure architect and virtualization expert at Avanade Inc. He specializes in enterprise infrastructure and data center optimization, virtualization and systems management. He has worked with some of the largest companies in the world to implement green data center solutions and has implemented several multinational server and desktop virtualization systems.

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