Eric's Technical Outlet

Learning the hard way so you don't have to

Rundown of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012

This is not a full-on review. I don’t get a lot of feedback here but the search hits seem to indicate this site is mostly trafficked by those who are working in small/medium business environments. If that’s you, then the short-form report on SCVMM 2012 is: you’re probably going to want to skip it.

I really like Hyper-V, but I’ve never really liked SCVMM 2008 R2. It’s OK and gets the job done, but it’s definitely got room for improvement. Its primary strength was that its closest rival, VMWare’s VirtualCenter, wasn’t any better. I haven’t used any of the more recent versions of VMWare products so I can no longer make comparisons in that regard. When comparing SCVMM 2008 R2 to 2012 in the world of the SMB, I can say that 2012 is, in totality, the worse product.

First, there’s the pricing. It’s both obscene and absurd. Quite simply, you can’t just buy SCVMM 2012. Remember how all the VMWare people lied and said you had to buy all of System Center to get SCVMM 2008 R2? With SCVMM 2012, you actually do. Don’t want ForeFront or Operations Manager or Data Protection Manager? Tough. You get it anyway. Won’t use them? Your choice, but you’re required to pay for them. Microsoft’s “answer” is to keep SCVMM 2008 R2 listed as the current version, so if you want to get SCVMM by itself, 2008 R2 is as far as the tracks will go. After that, it’s the omnibus or nothing. Oh, and if you’re on System Center Essentials, well, that product has no upgrade path either. I believe Microsoft’s insistence here is going to be that for what you get, the pricing is very reasonable. I agree. However, no concessions are made for those who don’t want it all. For our organization, we only want SCVMM and might be willing to consider SCOM, but the rest of it is being handled by other vendors who, in our opinion, are doing it better. I don’t know whether or not Microsoft will consider this a big issue, but they should. Since SCVMM is the only part of this that I care about, it would cost me less money to convert my entire organization to vSphere Enterprise Plus than to deploy SCVMM 2012. I know I bolded that and it is an important point, but I ask everyone who comes here to not take that out of its original context. I have no real intentions to jump to VMWare, but if Hyper-V R3 comes out and will only work with SCVMM 2012 and Microsoft doesn’t fix this ridiculous licensing scheme, then my intentions will likely change.

I can’t find where I read it, but somewhere, Microsoft had said that the licensing decision was because with previous editions of System Center, there were several thousand potential combinations of licensing schemes and they’re just trying to simplify that. The problem is, that even though Microsoft may view System Center monolithically doesn’t mean that its customer base does. By their reasoning, I think that (forgive me because I haven’t had to do this sort of math for a very long time) there is an equally large number of combinations of light switches in my home, but we somehow manage to make it work. Furthermore, imagine if they took all that whining about the huge number of Windows 7 SKUs and said, “Fine, we’re only going to offer Windows Ultimate from now on and you have to get Office Pro Plus too.” That’s pretty much what they’ve done here. Dear Microsoft, we the users are OK with a la carte selection of products. Offer the bundle to your big customers if that suits you, but don’t rob us little folks of the selection. Please?

The next problem with SCVMM 2012 is that, if you can believe it, the interface actually got worse. Just to make you aware of the context of that subjective statement, this is coming from a guy who actually thinks that the ribbon interface is a good thing. The visual styling is far nicer, but overall the usability is horrible. Context menus are gigantic and the feature you are most likely to want to use is almost always at the furthest point away from where your mouse starts. Worse yet, there’s a greater than zero chance that the feature you want is somewhere else anyway.

There are some added features and they could be nice, except that they’re far too complicated to use. One thing is that you can use SCVMM 2012 to deploy Hyper-V over IPMI. So, if you have a brand-new Dell server with an iDRAC card or an HP with an iLO or any other vendor that has an onboard management device with IPMI capability, all you have to do is get that device configured and you can just blast an installation image to it right from the SCVMM console. If an existing Hyper-V box breaks or gets blasted by a virus or a rogue admin, you can LiveMigrate the VMs off and redeploy without ever touching the unit. Since I’m a big fan of not backing up the Hyper-V host itself since it’s such a quick deployment anyway, this seemed like it would be a Godsend. It isn’t. In fact, if you don’t have five or more Hyper-V hosts, it will take you far more time to figure out how to set it up and configure it than it will ever possibly save you, even if you have to redeploy five or six times in the lifetime of your hosts. This whole process is needlessly complex. On the other hand, if you’re in a large datacenter with lots of Hyper-V boxes, it might be worth it. The thing is, how many datacenters are out there that can justify this are actually using Hyper-V and not VMWare? I don’t have the numbers on that, but my gut says that the SCVMM team and the Hyper-V team are two members of the same band but they’re trying to play to different audiences.

IPMI isn’t the only thing that is ridiculously overcomplicated. Microsoft took some things that were easy in 2008 R2 and made them hard, apparently for no other reason than because they can. VLANs for your virtual switches are downright painful, and unless I missed something, the pain will get worse the larger your deployment and segmenting gets. I discovered this mess when I created a VM and tried to assign it to a VLAN. Instead of the numeric text box that SCVMM 2008 R2 gives you, SCVMM 2012 has a drop-down box. To populate that drop-down box, you have to go create a network with VLANs and subnets, and then you have to add that network into the available networks list on the host. And then you have to do that all over again — for every host in your environment. Again, I might have missed some easier way to do it, but if so, that’s just another mark against this horrid interface. What I chose to do instead was use Hyper-V Manager to assign a VLAN to the NIC. That wasn’t hard, but the idea behind SCVMM 2012 was that we would be dipping into Hyper-V Manager and Failover Cluster Manager less often, not more.

Microsoft has added patch management to SCVMM 2012, which is nice. They copied VMWare’s baseline/remediation model, which is not so nice (I’m assuming that was VMWare’s to begin with because it’s the first place I saw it, but I don’t actually know that). It’s not just because they borrowed something, but because the baseline/remediation thing is just goofy. It’s one of the top things I despised about VirtualCenter. For a large datacenter, sure. For anything less, not so much. Then again, since the patch management systems are so similar now, it will be even funnier to listen to VMWare people claim that Hyper-V patching is its Achilles heel, but that tiny little joke isn’t worth this.

Anyway, as I said before, this is not a full review. There were a lot of new whizbang gadget points that are useful and I didn’t completely hate the product, but the pricing yanks it right out of the realm of feasibility for us. What remains to be seen is whether Microsoft gets their virtualization management strategy right or if they push all of the smaller shops back into the VMWare fold or down the road to Xen.

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3 responses to “Rundown of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012

  1. Markus April 26, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Hi,

    I’ve just started with building a small Hyper-V environment (4 Cluster nodes, approx. 40 VM) and agree to a lot of points in this article, since I am afraid in spending a lot of time for setting up SCVMM2012. In this relative small environment I am curious to hear ideas about getting a reliable, easy to use and affordable Management interface for Hyper-V 2012. Not sure if the built in options in WinSvr2012 (Cluster Manager, perfmon, ressource monitor, powershell) are suitable enough in my case.

    Maybe Veam One could be an option.

    Any thoughts?

    Cheers,
    Markus

    Like

    • Eric Siron April 26, 2013 at 7:02 am

      Hi Markus,
      I would give the built-in tools a shot. They’re actually pretty capable. One of the nice improvements in the 2012 series is that most of the day-to-day management can now be handled in Failover Cluster Manager. You still have to use Hyper-V Manager, but there’s not nearly as much flipping back and forth as there was in 2008 R2. I highly encourage you to examine the built-in PowerShell modules, if you haven’t already.
      What you miss out on without SCVMM is pre-built automation routines. The built-in Cluster-Aware Updating goes a long way toward alleviating the most common need for SCVMM automation, so maybe that’s enough. Some carefully crafted PowerShell scripts can help make up a lot of the difference as well, but that might be a drain on time you don’t have.
      I have no personal experience with Veeam One so I can’t comment intelligently on it. They have a free trial, don’t they? To be honest, I haven’t really looked at any of the third party management consoles.

      Like

  2. mdj2563 June 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I have to agree, I thought I was the only one. SCVMM 2008 R2 seems to break your environment, “Oh you want, to move a move. Sorry I broke it and I don’t know how to repair it.”. Really, you can’t put the config file and vhd where I want?

    The pricing too, I am mystified. For the price you would pay, unless you need a self-service portal and a desire to role them out after significant investment of time you might as well use powershell, them mmc and something like opennebula.

    Like

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