Akimbi makes virtual labs real
Akimbi Slingshot brings impressive automation to virtualized testing environments
Slingshot handles this conflict with what it calls a fence, a software router placed in the configuration. At deployment, this virtual router performs network address translation for the whole configuration and also remaps the MAC addresses to any systems outside the configuration. To make sure these MAC addresses do not conflict with those of other devices that could be running simultaneously, Akimbi obtained its own OUI (Organizationally Unique ID) -- the vendor-specific prefix of MAC addresses assigned by the IEEE -- and remaps the MAC addresses from that range.
The management console from which VMs are built, and where configurations are created and deployed, is a model of simplicity. The operations are easy to learn. They mostly involve dragging and dropping and clicking on menu picks and checkboxes. Especially useful is the cloning of existing machines, which also uses deltas from the original configuration. This design makes cloning quick and easy, and it enables you to store dozens, even hundreds of VMs without swamping available disk space.
Not All Joy and Bliss
Slingshot does have a few holes and several rough edges. Its biggest shortcoming is its lack of a reporting system. The closest you get is a log that provides only basic information. Also, the management console will not allow you to see a VM screen at full size. To do this you must install remote-access software and burrow in that way. In addition, Akimbi does not allow you to assign a specific MAC address to a deployed VM. This limitation can lead to complex roundabouts if the licensing mechanism requires a known MAC.
Several operations were far more difficult than they should have been -- installation, in particular. Despite using a fresh copy of Windows Server 2003 to host Slingshot and choosing only default options, the software generated many error messages. None of these error messages was documented. Given that most users will not have installed anything like Akimbi before, each of these undocumented errors is a show-stopper. I also stumbled across numerous small bugs in the interface, such as incorrectly reporting the number of processors on the host system, not graying out invalid menu options, and the like. Finally, I was disappointed that Slingshot supports only one version of Microsoft Virtual Server and exactly one version of VMware. Later releases will broaden the support for hypervisors and will one day include Xen.
Despite these problems, Slingshot is a good product that handles configurations and deployments without error. Even if you never use the fence feature or the snapshot capabilities, Akimbi Slingshot will pay for itself by the ease with which you can set up, deploy, and manage configurations. It should be evaluated for all enterprise lab settings.