Is System Center VM Manager a viable tool to manage VMware environments?

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) has long had a somewhat limited ability to link to VMware environments. In Microsoft’s most recent release (version 1807), Microsoft added support for VMware versions up to 6.5. That being the case, I wanted to take an objective look and see if System Center VM Manager is indeed a viable tool for managing your VMware environment.

Before I begin, I just want to quickly mention that I recently wrote a separate article on TechGenix that explains in detail how to link a vCenter Server and individual ESX hosts and clusters into System Center VM Manager. If you decide that you want to experiment with using VMM to manage your VMware environment, then that article is a good place to start.

Why use System Center VM Manager?

So I want to get started by asking a really obvious question. Why would anyone use VMM to manage their VMware environment? After all, vCenter Server is presumably the best tool for managing a VMware environment, just as VMM is the best tool for managing a Hyper-V environment.

Let me just say up front that VMM is never going to replace vCenter as a primary management tool for VMware. There are just too many things that you can do in vCenter that you can’t do in VMM. The advantage to using VMM is that if you have a multi-hypervisor environment, then VMM can give you a single pane of glass view into both your Hyper-V and VMware environments. So with that said, let’s take a look at VMM’s capabilities and its limitations with regard to VMware.

vCenter servers

Although you can link a vCenter server to VMM, VMM’s ability to manage your vCenter servers is very limited. If you look at the screenshot below, you can see the listing for my vCenter Server within VMM. Both the vCenter servers portion of the toolbar and the right-click menu both give testament to just how little you can do with your vCenter servers. You can refresh the view, import a template, remove the server, and examine the server’s properties, but that’s about it.


In case you are wondering, clicking on the shortcut menu’s Properties option takes you to a configuration screen that lets you change the server name, port number, or Run As account. You can see what this screen looks like in the screenshot below.

ESX hosts

System Center VM Manager provides significantly more options when it comes to managing individual hosts and/or clusters. If you look at the next screenshot, you can see that when I select a VMware host, VMM provides me quite a bit of information about that host. For example, I can see the host’s CPU load and the amount of memory that is available. I can also see the host’s OS, the total amount of memory installed in the hosts, the host’s CPU, and I can even see a bit of information about the host’s storage.


On the surface, the toolbar would make it seem as though your options for managing VMware hosts are quite limited. There are icons for refreshing the host and its VMs, placing the host into maintenance mode, moving the host to another host group, and a few other really basic things. Most of the more significant configuration options are accessible by clicking on the host and then clicking on the Properties icon. This opens the host’s Properties dialog box, which you can see in the screenshot below.


Given my experiences with some of the earlier versions of VMM, I was really surprised to see just how much functionality was exposed through the host Properties dialog box. You can use it to manage storage, virtual switches, and a variety of other host level settings.

VMs

When I first attached a VMware environment to System Center VM Manager, it was VMM’s ability to interact with VMware virtual machines that I was most curious about. Some of the earlier versions of VMM would allow you to reboot VMware VMs, but you couldn’t do much beyond that. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that Microsoft has stepped up its game with regard to supporting VMware VMs.

If you look at the screenshot below, you can see that VMM displays some basic configuration information for the selected VM. More importantly, the toolbar contains options to do more than just cycle the VM’s power. You can migrate the VM’s storage, create and manage checkpoints (snapshots), and more.


You can access more granular detail for a particular virtual machine by right-clicking on the VM and selecting the Properties command from the shortcut menu. You can see what the Properties screen looks like in the next image.

And the decision is ...

So how about it? Is System Center VM Manager a viable tool for managing VMware virtual machines? Admittedly, it has been a few years since I have even tried to manage a VMware deployment from VMM, but in that time Microsoft has done a lot of work to improve the management experience.

For lightweight, day-to-day management tasks, VMM may very well be a viable management tool for VMware. However, VMware administrators may discover that VMM brings with it a significant learning curve. This is because VMM uses Microsoft terminology for some of the management tasks. For instance, there is no vMotion option, but there is a Migrate Virtual Machine option that does the same thing.

Brien Posey

Brien Posey is a freelance technology author and speaker with over two decades of IT experience. Prior to going freelance, Brien was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network engineer for the United States Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition, Brien has worked as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in America. To date, Brien has received Microsoft’s MVP award numerous times in categories including Windows Server, IIS, Exchange Server, and File Systems / Storage. You can visit Brien’s Website at: www.brienposey.com.

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