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VMware employs Stage Manager

Turn that SAP upgrade into a virtual headache

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VMware this week let loose yet another management product, which pushes the virtualization specialist deeper into the data center. Say 'hello' to the beta of VMware Stage Manager.

The Stage Manager code puts a virtual spin on the lengthy, often complicated process of installing, testing and rolling out new applications. According to VMware, customers can now perform these tasks in a very methodical way using virtual servers rather than physical machines to replicate and test their production gear. In so doing, customers not only save money on hardware but also create more realistic copies of their production systems, which should lead to smoother upgrades and installations.

VMware's Melinda Wilken proved her skills as a director of marketing to us by explaining Stage Manager in some high-falutin' terms. As we understand it, the software brings in a new world of automation, solution enablement, service acceleration and process streamlining.

More practically, perhaps, Stage Manager has the potential to make thrusting Exchange 2008 or SAP's latest code explosion onto your data center a bit easier. Rather than setting up and maintaining armies of "shadow instances" to deal with, say, the SAP roll out, customers can create virtual replicas of different hardware and application pairings. Through a slick GUI, VMware's software guides admins through every stage of this process, moving apps from the integration, test, staging and - fingers crossed - user acceptance phases.

The savings from lower hardware costs prove obvious with this type of approach, although VMware's application consistency idea deserves more explanation.

As Wilken sees it, customers will set up their shadow instances with the best of intentions, hoping to keep the systems as exact replicas of production boxes. Over time, however, Joe forgets to install a patch, while Bob adds a crucial upgrade only to the production boxes and Tim fine-tunes his new porn search engine on that IBM WebSphere shadow unit that everyone has ignored.

VMware claims to add more structure and ease to all this through Stage Manager. If you want the shadow machine to catch up to a production machine, just wrap the production software up in a virtualized container and install it on the test system. That's one or maybe two clicks of easiness. Hurrah.

(There are a couple shots of the GUI here and here.)

The Stage Manager code builds on VMware's efforts to win over admins and developers in a major way. The company, for example, has Lab Manager, which adds a similar virtual wrapper to the code development process.

While VMware is doing all this, Microsoft is coming to market with, er, marketing. Redmond this week said that virtualization is very, very important and even plans to do something about it later this year.

How much does Stage Manager cost? Was it involved in the Heath Ledger death? Does it have an illegitimate child?

VMware won't answer any of these questions but did say it hopes to get a production version of the software in the hands of customers by the US Summer. ®

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