One of the more common questions I’ve been running into lately during customer meetings, especially when I talk about NetApp’s OnCommand Balance, is how does or how doesn’t Balance compete with VMware’s “new” vCenter Operations Manager product?
So… Sure they compete, and then again, they’re complimentary.
The next two “What is” sections are general overviews, and you’ll notice that both Balance and vCOPS have a number of features that overlap each other. I’m providing you with an overview to establish the confusion that drove this post, but I assure you that if you jump to the end (or click here), I’ll make sure that I stack them to show the differences.
Before I continue, my peers are quick to say my posts are too long. I have a lot to share, so let me offer you a few quick jump buttons to skip past the stuff you already know.
|Balance Info||vCOPS Info||Comparison||Recommendations|
What is NetApp OnCommand Balance?
NetApp’s OnCommand Balance, previously known as Akorri BalancePoint, is an application that collects performance related data from the application layer through the supporting infrastructure. The real value is in Balance’s ability to model and analyze the relationships between the application and the physical infrastructure so that administrators can identify potential problem areas and/or performance bottlenecks before they become a problem.
Balance is part of NetApp’s OnCommand Storage Management portfolio which is comprised of 3 categories: Analyze, Control and Automate. It should come as no surprise that Balance falls in the Analyze category with peer applications that target performance and planning . Working together, these products are meant to enable administrators to better address capacity planning, chargeback, virtual machine optimization and assurance monitoring. The net-net is that Balance is really meant to correlate information that helps you better understand how to optimize the data/storage for your infrastructure and to help make better decisions based on analysis and performance indicators.
What I Like About Balance
- It’s Intelligence comes from analysis and correlation of all of the elements in the infrastructure
- I don’t have to extract or export the data myself and then merge it into a spreadsheet
- It’s heterogeneous supporting different hypervisors, operating systems, and physical components
- It’s NOT vendor or protocol specific
- It’s agentless
- It offers a plug-in to vCenter
A picture is worth a thousands words…. here is a simple screenshot of why I like Balance as much as I do:
The fact that I can see from the application all the way through the stack, reorient to understand how other applications, and servers may be affecting the backend storage or consuming more resources on a server than is allowed is no small feat–collecting the data, correlating the data, or presenting such a complex amount of information.
N.B. While Balance will work with multiple storage vendors, NetApp customers do get a price break, but that comes with a caveat — Balance will only work with the NetApp arrays in your data center. Nice to get a price break, but anytime there is an imposed feature-tax it irritates me – yes, even if it is from the very company I work for.
What I Don’t Like About Balance
I really just have 2 things that I don’t like about this product:
- The antiquated user interface
- The fact that the there is no auto-refresh of the user interface
I firmly believe that the way you represent yourself is a key indicator of your capabilities, and I will say that I am disappointed that the user interface for Balance has not evolved at a more rapid pace. Say what you will around the worth of a beauty contest, and I am certainly not proposing that advancements in features and capabilities be ignored to dress the application up, but I’m suggesting that time be taken to make the user interface and user experience be as powerful as the engine driving it. My last gripe–lack of auto-refresh. As an enterprise class software application, this is an area I would have expected to see an preference setting where the default can be set to Off to minimize performance impacts from a constant polling of the infrastructure, but to have stale data on the screen in an industry where people are accustom to looking at live data streams can make for inaccurate decisions.
How is Balance Licensed?
Balance is licensed in two ways: NetApp Controller-based and Capacity-based. The NetApp Controller-based license nets out to a 60% discount since you are only running Balance against NetApp Controllers. Controllers that are supported for this licensing program are the V-Series, 2200, 3200 and 6200 series for Data ONTAP 7-Mode on versions 7.x, 8.0 and 8.1. For those who want to take advantage of the heterogenity of the software, the tiered or capacity-based licensing is what you’d want for data centers that are comprised of storage from Dell, EMC, HP, HDS, IBM, NetApp 2000/2100/3000/3100/6000/6100 and NetApp E-Series. For capacity-based, you have to purchase a 10TB minium license, and additional licenses are purchased in 5TB increments.
Of course with any piece of software, the local account teams will work out whatever the configuration is and toss in any discounts that may or may not exist. Closest to “it depends” I’ll get, and would add to make sure you understand on the NetApp Controller-based license, there are two flavors, single node and HA-pair based costs. Guess I should have listed the licensing is a third thing that I don’t like about Balance–al biet I’d say that about almost any piece of software or hardware. I’d even say that complex licensing programs are introduced as a way to justify “it depends” responses from an account team — IMHO.
What is VMware vCenter Operations Manager (vCOPS)?
In the “At a Glance” document located here, VMware offers the following:
“ The VMware vCenter™ Operations Management Suite provide s automated operations management using patented analytics and an integrated approach to performance, capacity and configuration management. The vCenter Operation s Management Suite enables IT organizations to get better visibility and actionable intelligence to proactively ensure service levels, optimum resource usage and configuration compliance in dynamic virtual and cloud environments.
So what does that mean?
vCenter Operations Management Suite offers two components: vCenter Operations Manager and vCenter Infrastructure Navigator. These two components are tightly integrated and allow you to manage performance and capacity across multiple vCenter servers.
vCenter Operations Manager is dashboard driven with the following features:
- Proactive alerting feature
- Integrated with CapacityIQ correlating capacity, utilization, efficiency and risk
- vCenter Chargeback for cost metering, capacity analysis and reporting
- vCenter Configuration Manager to monitor in-guest change events against performance and health measurements
- Application dependency mapping
- Compliance checking of the vSphere hosts
vCenter Infrastructure Navigator is a vCenter appliance that you use to create a dependency mapping of application services across the virtual infrastructure. The maps include application services on VMs, hosts, clusters, datastores, vNetworks, etc. If you want all of the details, you’ll need to install an agent, otherwise, you’ll get a limited amount of details via WMI.
By this point, you should be saying — I see nothing but similarities, and you’d be right, partially. We’re almost there.
What I like about vCOPS
I really like the user experience with vCOPS, the live display of information is something I would put up in a NOC, and something we saw at the Hands on Lab at VMWorld 2011 (we had Balance running there too). I am trying not to harp too much on the UI, but it is indicative of the progressiveness that is server virtualization IMHO. Here are a few others:
- Community driven nature via plugins — NetApp has a storage plugin for vCOPS, as does EMC and a couple of others. I’d like to say we wrote it, but that’d just not true. VMware actually stepped in and used the exposed NetApp API set to create the plugin. I believe they did the same for other hardware vendors as well, but the fact that it is plugin-capable extends the community value-add by allowing vCOPS to grow with the user base behind it.
- Managing and creating Site Recovery Manager protection groups and recovery plans is the coolest thing for me. The idea that you can use all of these analytics at your disposal to make disaster recovery decisions based on the relationship of the application through the virtual infrastructure. Imaging looking at the application dependency map to build out a more accurate recovery plan. This won’t make SRM application consistent, still a crash consistent approach, but it does create a DR strategy with the workload in mind versus the VM in mind (which was the case prior to this suite of tools).
- Integrated with CapacityIQ. If you haven’t worked with CapacityIQ before, I’d encourage you to do your own investigation. I like that I can use this integration to not only look at usage values, but also that I can look at where I am wasting resources.
What I don’t like about vCOPS
- Agents, agents, agents. The only agents I like are the graphics I’m using in this post. With the vCOPS Infrastructure Navigator, I don’t like that you have to install an agent if you want to get the most out of your application dependency mapping. Without the agent, you don’t get the full functionality.
- My biggest gripe is that capabilities and benefits of vCOPS are bounded by the virtual infrastructure. So long as you have a 100% virtualized on VMware vSphere data center, no problem. However, almost all of the customers that I engage with on this topic are still working with physical servers and/or mixed hypervisor environments. There are also other components within the infrastructure that don’t operate in the boundaries of vSphere, and without being able to see all of the components, the dependency mappings become a pretty icon set on the screen.
- If you want the ability to extend vCOPS, you have to have the Enterprise Edition. I can say the same about Balance, but the user community must be given the option to extend the management components to tailor it to their needs, not be bound to rigid and feature limiting rules based on licensing. I know, I know, to make a statement like that means that vendors would not exist because revenues would go flat real quick – just frustrating sometimes.
- The maturity of the software suite. Lets face it, the software suite is one of the latest editions to VMware’s product lines. While I appreciate the progress they have made to date, many customers will want to wait until it gets a few more version revisions under its belt as a means of indicating its fit for the data center. I for one don’t believe in this tactic–the software either works or it doesn’t and if you are discovering its capabilities and feeding into the engineering process in v1.0, then you own maturity is behind at the point it reaches a revision number that fits your business rules for software adoption. What’s worse, is without that input into the development process, things have a 0% chance of changing and instead, in a weird “you asked for it” passive-agressive way, version 100 comes out, it fits the business rules, you buy it, burn you way through the deep feature set, only to discover that it brought the feature baggage with it that you didn’t want from a 1.0 suite. The train’s already left the station and the ability for you to help alte the course becomes increasingly impossible. Whew, I feel a little better, light headed, but better–let me get off this soap box before I pass out.
How is vCOPS Licensed?
vCOPS is categorized in 4 licensing programs: Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus. Kudos to you VMware for not introducing a license naming convention that completely different then other programs. As you’d imaging, each program though does come at a different price. If price is your motivator and you are willing to pass on features, then the decision is fairly easy. Otherwise, you can quickly get lost in the capabilities included per license type. I like tables and thought this might help:
Okay, So Show Me A Table
You know, I started this post off comparing vCOPS to NetApp OnCommand Balance, and that wasn’t fair. As I put this table together, I realized that I should have compared vCOPS to NetApp OnCommand Analyze which includes the Balance, Assure and Plan components. Take a look at this table and you’ll see what I mean:
When you net this all out, to get the same features and function from vCenter Operations Manager, you’d need the enterprise / enterprise plus license, and you’d need to install those agents to get the full functionality in the application dependency mapping. Agentless with, in my opinion, an antiquated user interface? I’m good with that, even if the suite was not from NetApp.
While I did not cover the pricing model with vCenter Operations Manager, or balance for that matter, work with your account teams to determine the feature set you’re looking for, how that maps to the licensing program you need, and then evaluate the price they give you.
Now Tell Me What You’d Recommend
First, let me just say that software solutions that enable you to monitor the performance of your data center are important. When you use these tools to make informed decisions about the current resource utilization and future resource purchasing to accomodate workloads, that demonstrates good data center hygiene IMHO.
Okay, so if it’s anywhere I’ll differ with NetApp and VMware, it’s going to be here. I do believe that these products are coopetitively positioned in that both VMware and NetApp believe in the value of data center analysis, remediation and modeling from the workload through the infrastructure. My recommendations are straight forward and I would like to say that it is as simple as choosing one over the other–sadly though, not all data centers are the same so instead, I’ll give you my recommendations based on the following kinds of data centers:
Data Center Type: Mixed (Virtual & Physical, Multiple Hypervisors)
Recommendation: NetApp OnCommand Balance
Remember what I had said earlier in my likes/dislikes for each product. I like the fact that OnCommand Balance offers visibility and performance related information regardless of hypervisor, regardless of virtual or physical. With vCOPS, I love the detail and freshness I get within the VMware construct, but hated that its capabilities were bound to VMware core technologies. It should go without saying that if your data center is not mixed, meaning you are a 100% virtualized on VMware infrastructure, then VMware vCOPS is what I would recommend.
Role Type: Storage Admin
Recommendation: NetApp OnCommand Balance
If you are a storage admin in a traditionally structured data center, regardless of what the workload is, the insight and capacity planning that you are looking to gain is going to come from a product like Balance. The manner in which information is presented in Balance will speak more readily to the storage admin than vCOPS. Using OnCommand Balance, the storage admin can look for bottlenecks and contention within the storage layer. There is also the benefit of multi-vendor storage support, and where the workload utilizing the storage is specialized–virtualization in this case–VM workload optimization and resource utilization requirements can be taken into account as well. I like that this enables the storage admin to have a faster time to resolution conversation with the virtualization admin since they are armed with supporting information that in the vernacular of both administrator type.
Role Type: VMware Admin
Recommendation: VMware vCenter Operations Manager
Role Type: Operations Manager / Capacity Planning Manager / Architect