vCloud Automation Center 5.1 is the newest member of VMware’s vCloud Suite and as such member of the suite since Q4 2012.
vCloud Automation Center is only part of the Enterprise edtion of the vCloud Suite and the result of the Dynamic Ops acquisition by VMware. vCloud Automation Center 5.1 is actually the follow-on release of DynamicOps Cloud Automation Center 4.5.
vCloud Automation Center, or vCAC, runs as a service on a Windows 2008 R2 SP1 and needs SQL Server 2008 or 2012 in the backend to run. SQL Express is supported as a database platform, but it is required that SQL Express runs on the same server as vCAC.
vCAC offers a management console and a self service portal which can both accessed from a wide variety of browsers and platform (Windows, Linux, Apple, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari). vCAC uses Microsoft Internet Information Services as the webserver platform.
vCloud Automation Center – What’s the goal?
The goal of vCAC is to deploy and provision cloud services across private & public clouds, physical infrastructures, hypervisors and public cloud providers. vCAC supports vSphere, vCloud Director (as of version 5.1), Hyper-V and XenServer. vCAC also supports Dell DRAC, HP ILO, Cisco’s UCS manager and there’s an integration with NetApp DataOntap. A connection with Amazon’s EC2 cloud is also supported.
vCloud Automation Center is managed through a web browser and offers a portal to its users. Depending on their role these users can deploy entities: both virtual machines and physical servers. vCAC provides some limited Orchestration and Chargeback functionality as well.
At this point you might think that there’s some overlap with other products already included in the vCloud Suite. Well the answer is…yes. As mentioned before, vCloud Automation Center has its own Orchestration & Chargeback functionality, but these options are more limited (in some way) than the features offered by vCenter Chargeback & vCenter Orchestrator.
On the other hand vCAC integrates with other platforms like HyperV, XenServer, Amazon EC2 out of the box. This is not (or just partially) the case with the other VMware products.
Regarding the overlap with vCloud Director (vCD), vCAC offers functionality that’s also available in the product. The scope of vCD is creating a multi tenancy environment on top of vSphere, including self provisioning, standard catalog, webbased portal and offering various SLA’s. The vCloud Automation Center cannot create the multi-tenancy environment, but offer a lot more features regarding the provisioning part. Let’s see what this provisioning includes.
Provisioning with vCloud Automation Center
vCloud Automation Center gives you the ability to create deployment groups of users, who can (depending on the permissions) request or approve virtual machine deployment. A virtual machine request triggers a process which can highly customized. The basis steps of this process are:
- Request – Request a predefined resource. Of course resources should first be defined, these resources can be virtual machines to be cloned, or a definition to create a new virtual machine on-the-fly.
- Approve – Approve the request by the designated approval group or groups. For example you can require an approval by both the financial and operations department.
- Provision – Provsion the resource, e.g. clone or create a virtual machine or connect a physical resource.
- Manage – Manage the virtual machine, change the resource configuration for example. At this moment you cannot access the console of a virtual machine through the vCAC interface, like vCD allows you to (vCD can setup a 443 tunnel connection to the console of a virtual machine). As an alternative vCAC allows you to setup an RDP session to a virtual machine from the management interface.
- Retire – Remove the virtual machine from the inventory/system.
- Archive – Archive the virtual machine/resource.
You can link custom actions/scripts to this process, to link the workflow to the processes in your organization. You can connect a vSphere, HyperV, XenServer or Amazon EC2 resource to vCAC and provisioning the virtual machines to this resource. Provisioning of physical resources is also possible, vCAC is compatible with Dell DRAC and HP ILO. Since version 5.1 it’s also possible to provision vCloud Director vApp’s into preconfigured (vCD) virtual data centers. Integration with vCenter Orchestrator on top of the built-in orchestrator is also possible since version 5.1
Of course you can define different groups in the product, a requester group but also one or more groups for approving these requests.
The foundation for the actual workflows in vCloud Automation Center is Microsoft Windows Workflow Foundation. XAML is used for the workflow definition. By default vCAC offers you 10 different workflows which can be customized using the included vCAC Design Center; XAML programming skills are recommended. You have only one workflow available for the different tasks; e.g. there’s only one deployment workflow.
If you want define more than one workflow for a action (for example, you have three different deployment flows), you have to buy the vCloud Automation Center Development Kit (CDK). This option let you define more workflows.
vCloud Automation Center Licensing
As stated before, vCloud Automation Center is apart of the vCloud Suite Enterprise. The product can also be licensed per VM, in which case you have to pay $400 or $125 per VM in a 25 VM pack, respectively a server or desktop VM.
It’s not clear to me how you have to deal with physical resources from a licensing perspective. The vCloud Automation Center Development Kit (CDK) is a separate product and required for adding new (non standard) workflows to vCAC. vCloud Suite Enterprise includes vCAC 5.1; the Cloud Development Kit is also not included in this offering.
vCloud Automation Center Roadmap
I think the value of vCAC is eminent; customize, optimize and integrate your deployment workflows to a wide variety of cloud resources. The request->approve->provision->manage->retire->archive process is important here.
The challenge for VMware is dealing with the overlap with the other products mentioned before (vCloud Director and vCenter Chargeback), and how to integrate all these products, It would be great to add some of the vCAC features to vCD and/or vice versa. We will hear more about that at VMware Partner Exchange in the upcomming week probably.
Additional reading is available on the VMware website: