Embotics Releases Free Tool to Fight VM Sprawl

Virtualization promises the effortless creation of new servers. Unfortunately, that’s also its downfall: Make enough virtual machines, and you’re bound to lose some. Ottawa, Canada-based VM management startup Embotics wants to help system administrators manage all those servers with a free tool called VScout, released today, that tags, tracks and predicts virtual machine sprawl.

Sprawl happens because, unlike their physical cousins, virtual machines aren’t unique. Physical machines have ports, addresses and interfaces to identify them. But a copy of a virtual machine is identical to the original. And if you can’t identify something uniquely, you can’t track it, which means you can’t attach metadata about its owner and lifespan and you can’t enforce policies about it.

Embotics has been working on this problem for a while; although the company was founded in 2006, it gained five years of intellectual property when it acquired autonomic computing startup Symbium. Embotics’ core IP uniquely tags a virtual machine, then provides tools to report and manage machines across multiple virtual data centers — even when that machine is copied. Currently supporting only VMware, the company is working on integration with Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager due out early next year.

Many system administrators rely on spreadsheets to keep track of machines, but these invariably grow stale, leading to “orphaned” VMs. Embotics is hoping they’ll switch to the free VScout and ultimately upgrade to the company’s V-Commander product, which not only tracks machines but also sets policies to control where machines can live, how long they can last, and who can access them.

The interesting conflict of interest for VMware, Xen and Microsoft is that if they help people corral virtual machines, they may sell less of them, and that would be bad for their business, since they make money on the sale of VM licenses. As a result, a whole ecosystem of companies like ManageIQ, Embotics and Fortisphere have emerged to fill a need that many people feel should be addressed by tools that are built right into VM tools themselves, rather than sold by third-party vendors.

This isn’t so true for Microsoft, which plans to ship its System Center Virtual Machine Manager early next year — an act that may force Xen and VMware to build or buy their own management tools.

As Embotics’ VP of Marketing David M. Lynch pointed out when I spoke with him, VM management tools are conspicuously absent from VMware’s own offerings. Lynch isn’t surprised by this: “Their focus has been on encouraging people to deploy new machines. But this is a space that absolutely requires management.”