For years, VMware users have begged in community forums for a Linux client desktop interface to connect to the vCenter server without a Windows machine. At last year's VMworld, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company elicited cheers with an even better offer: not only a Web-based, cross-platform client desktop interface but also a Linux-based vCenter management server in the form of a virtual appliance.
The vCenter virtual appliance server 2.5 has been available as a free technology preview since late February. The cross-platform client interface is still in development but some components have been available in technology preview since May, with no word on how long users will have to wait for a full production release of either product. All of that doesn't sit well with some people.
Eric Siebert, a TechTarget blogger and IT veteran, said he thinks VMware may have been dragging its feet a bit on this project because its customer base is predominately Windows. But VMware needs to step up its Linux efforts if it wants to compete with Xen and Hyper-V for Linux users, he said.
And Maxwell Powers, an infrastructure engineer at New York-based Touchstone Health HMO Inc., who was enthusiastic about the Linux-based vCenter appliance last fall, said he is going to phase out all Linux servers because he's tired of creating extra steps for Linux machines and some of his applications only run on Windows.
"It's too much effort to find Linux hacks and work-arounds for things that simply 'work' in Windows," he said.
But Chris Wolf, an analyst with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said it can be tough for a software company to weigh priorities and VMware is better to take more time and do it right rather than rush something to market.
"This is a lot of development," Wolf said. "I think they are right on schedule."
Ben Cheung, VMware group product manager, said the company will not publicly announce yet when either of these Linux initiatives will be considered stable enough for a full production release.
"We are an enterprise, high-end server company used by some of the largest banks and government agencies," Cheung said. "Many people are working hard on this. But there's quite a big difference between a technology preview and a supported production product. It's a complicated process and we need more time. It's not a lack of will."
In an Oct. 29 story, VMware product director Srinivas Krishnamurti said the vCenter virtual appliance would be built with a Linux-based JeOS (just enough operating system). The vCenter appliance monitors virtual machines and resources from ESX hosts and performs provisioning, monitoring and troubleshooting. Customers will be able to install the preconfigured appliance quickly and will benefit from VMware support for the entire package, he said.
Cheung said vCenter and the vCenter appliance share the same program code, but the appliance is produced separately during compile and build time.
The client interface
As for the VI (VMware Infrastructure) client interface, the cross-platform console, when completed, will provide point-and-click access for all vCenter tasks, from routine to advanced, from any Windows, Linux or Macintosh machines.
"We're hard at work providing a centralized interface for everyone," Cheung said. "It's a challenge to meet these goals, one cross-platform interface for everybody to interact with the system. And we're doing all this from the perspective of different users instead of functionality. There are a lot of details we are actively working on."
For example, the preferences of senior Linux admins who perform the most complex tasks are quite different from junior admins who do routine functions like provisioning, monitoring and configuring virtual machines, Cheung said. The former prefer scripts and command lines, which automate tasks and, therefore, are faster and more efficient, and disdain the graphical user interfaces that junior admins prefer as tools for the unskilled, he said.
For junior admins, VMware created direct client access from the desktop to vCenter via the Web, eliminating the need for a Windows machine, Cheung said. VMware also created a VCAP administrative portal that enables admins to control multiple vCenter management servers, he said.
What VMware still does not have is one centralized console where senior and junior admins can do all tasks, from simple to complex, but that remains the goal, he said.
"VMware is definitely serving the Linux customer better and we believe this will be a tremendous differentiator for us," Cheung said. "I don't believe Microsoft will match our efforts."
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