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Dell hooks server tools into VMware vCenter

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Dell did a lot of work last year to make its PowerEdge servers, their service processors, and its OpenManage system administration tools integrate with Microsoft's System Center tools for managing Windows and software higher up the stack. Today Dell is hooking its servers and tools into the vCenter console from server virtualization powerhouse VMware to let system admins work a little easier.

Bouncing between consoles is a pain in the neck (in this case, somewhat literally as well as figuratively), and system administrators don't like doing it. They also don't like changing what tool they use to do most of their monitoring and managing, any more than any of us out there on the Web want to change browsers for each site we visit.

Dell knows there is little chance that it is going to convince customers using VMware's vSphere server virtualization stack and its related vCenter console to drop back and use its own OpenManage system management tool. OpenManage was not made to handle virtualized servers, and even if it was tweaked to do so, VMware admins that are long familiar with the vCenter console want to keep working from within that console.

And so Dell has done the obvious thing: it created a plug-in for vCenter that allows it to reach back into the OpenManage tools, the Lifecycle Controller service processor on the Power Edge machines, and the iDRAC remote access controller for remote systems management.

With the plug-in, admins working from inside vCenter can now use the Dell tools to provision a bare-metal server out on the network, do firmware and BIOS updates, manage alerts from boxes, and provision ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors on top of the bare metal, where VMware's stack then takes over managing all the virty stuff.

Las July, Dell OEMed a version of Microsoft's Systems Center Essentials 2010 tools for its PowerEdge customers, which it sold at a discount over Microsoft's list price and which was tightly integrated with its PowerEdge iron. Dell also provided a plug-in for the Systems Center console which brought the features of the OpenManage tools and PowerEdge hardware controllers into Systems Center. This plug-in was available for free, just like the Hyper-V hypervisor from Microsoft.

VMware's ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors are not free (well, technically you can download a free version of ESXi, but you have to pay for support), and neither is the Dell plug-in for the vCenter console. Doug Iler, senior manager of system management and virtualization at Dell, says that the plug-in is licensed based on the number of PowerEdge 11g servers that are under management of the vCenter console. For three servers, you pay $300; 10 costs you $799; 50 runs you $1,799, and 1,000 runs you $3,000.

You need to be on either the vSphere 4.0 or 4.1 stack, and the latter is desirable says Iler because it allows for scripted deployment of hypervisors and servers on new iron that is attached to the network. The plug-in for vCenter can be used to provide a cluster-level view of the aggregated PowerEdge servers. Right now, that view is limited to the number of machines in one vCenter instance, but in a future release, data from multiple vCenter consoles will be aggregated to give a complete view of all physical and virtual machines. This feature will likely come out concurrent with the PowerEdge 12g servers and vSphere 5.0 later this year. ®

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