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Virtual Appliance Grazing

Virtual appliances are a great thing, if you find one you like. It is truly amazing how many appliances are available, and the VMware Appliance Marketplace is a nice starting point for the hunt. Many appliances are free, but with the old warning that “you get what you pay for,” administrators should proceed with caution in the virtual appliance space.

One of my favorites is the VKernel SearchMyVM appliance, which is the quickest way to do query-based searches on VMware VI3 installations. I use a smattering of others, and play with a bunch more. But getting into the appliance space got me thinking a bit about the management side of appliances.

The free products are interesting and worth investigating. There are also plenty of evaluation appliances available, so don’t get too attached if you don’t have the funds to use it legitimately or become dependent on a product you can’t procure.

Where I get concerned about appliances -- especially the free ones -- is the practical issues associated with using them. A virtual appliance contains some operating system configured by the publisher of the appliance. Usually they're Linux-based for licensing reasons, and most provide a root password. Should these passwords be changed? Do you know exactly what these devices do on the network or to systems they connect to? Simply because they are quick and easy to download doesn't mean you can skip your infrastructure management and policy homework.

I don’t want to bash virtual appliances; I am a big fan of them. But I do want to issue a few warnings for virtual appliances.

  • If you are not using the appliance, turn it off. Most virtual environments are too expensive to be running idle VMs.
  • Determine if the appliance is really needed or provides some benefit you think is worth its resources.
  • Refine the security. Get the password(s) where you need them up front, and find and fix problems before you get too far along with the appliance.

Maybe a rant; maybe I’m on to something. What is your opinion on virtual appliances? Do they fall out of policy in your environment? Share your comments below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 05/12/2009 at 12:47 PM


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