AWS' VMware vCenter tool bridges gap for IT admin

Now that the initial dust has settled, industry experts aren't so sure a new AWS VMware integration tool is that valuable.

Amazon Web Services' integration of some Elastic Compute Cloud functions with VMware vCenter has set the industry abuzz, but experts say the tool doesn't break as much new ground as it appears.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Management Portal for vCenter is a free plug-in for customers to manage Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances through the familiar VMware management portal. It will also allow single sign-on thanks to integration with Active Directory and role-based access control so IT managers can delegate certain management tasks such as restarting a virtual machine (VM).

But in Amazon's words in the tool's User Guide "limitations" section, this is not a comprehensive tool for creating and managing AWS resources.

It uses VMware terminology, so it could potentially bridge a gap for the less-savvy junior VMware admin.
Kyle Hilgendorfanalyst, Gartner

Instead, the AWS-VMware integration allows vCenter users to get started quickly with basic tasks, such as creating a virtual private cloud and subnet, and launching an EC2 instance. According to the guide, for more advanced tasks, they must use the AWS Management Console or AWS command-line interface.

The tool is a plug-in for vCenter which places an icon, "AWS Management Portal," into the main vCenter client. Clicking on it takes IT pros into a separate interface to manage EC2 resources, according to screenshots on the AWS blog. It also adds a "Migrate to EC2" option for existing VMware VMs on the main vCenter screen.

The migration that the vCenter plug-in enables is based on a hook into the existing AWS VM Import/Export tool, which has its own limitations. Raw disk mapping in VMware environments is not supported, for example.

One VMware customer who also uses the vCloud Hybrid Service said it would take more than this integration to sway him toward EC2.

"Amazon is aware that over time they need to make these types of connectors available so people in the marketplace who are familiar with those tools can use them comfortably and confidently," said Shawn Wiora, CIO of Creative Solutions in HealthCare, which runs a network of nursing homes in Texas.

That's smart in the short term, but this type of connector can have problems -- especially with updates -- so keeping in sync will prove challenging, he said.

Analysts are similarly skeptical the tool in its current form throws down a gauntlet for VMware.

Rather than a shot across the bow at VMware, in fact, some industry experts see Amazon's move as an acknowledgement of vCenter's popularity among AWS customers.

"Amazon isn't going to try to be an enterprise management suite," said David Bartoletti, analyst with Forrester Research Inc. based in Cambridge, Mass. "There is a recognition here that vCenter is a good management tool a lot of people use every day."

Analysts point out that turnabout is also fair play, since on the VMware side, higher-level management tools such as vCenter Operations and vCloud Automation Center already have their own integration with AWS.

The AWS Management Portal for vCenter allows for some basic functionality, such as attaching Elastic Block Store volumes, creating security groups and key pairs, but doesn't support a number of Amazon's more advanced services, from Elastic IPs to load balancers to database services and more.

"It's a very early start on something that could be expanded pretty significantly," said Kyle Hilgendorf, analyst with Gartner, Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn. "What is potentially most fascinating about this … is that it uses VMware terminology, so it could potentially bridge a gap for the less-savvy junior VMware admin."

These admins are often found among help desk staff, and the AWS VMware tool combined with role-based access control means senior admins could delegate tasks like restarting VMs in EC2 to their junior counterparts.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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