How VMware Can Make The Web Client Awesome

Written by William Roush on August 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Some pretty basic design principals that would make the web client on VMware awesome, including the ability to make it redundant and supported on free systems!

I was reading this article by Trevor Pott, which does a fairly good job dealing some major problems on VMware’s vSphere web client, and how absolutely terrible it is. However I have some major issues with this article, first of all is no real concrete suggestions on architecture changes (how do we handle the vCenter single point of failure? What about free clients? What about the Flash plugins?). Here I’m going to offer up some suggestions to reaffirm Trevor’s stance that VMware could and should do this better!

A True Single-Page Application

By far I figure one of the easiest ways to resolve all of our issues is a solid single-page application. This is the concept that the website you visit will load all the resources needed on your computer to run without refreshing the page. This is generally done using HTML5 and Javascript, common frameworks include AngularJS and Ember.JS. A giant flash application like the vSphere web client has now doesn’t really count.

How to Handle the API

Some suggestions on how to handle API calls to the hosts/vCenter:

  1. Transparent layer – Have the web server host a JSON based API that gets translated into the API calls to the host/vCenter box. This allows you to have very low overhead calls (as opposed to very noisy SOAP), and allow Javascript to do what it does best (talking in a native tongue instead of using Apache CXF for Javascript clients). This incurs minor overhead on the host running the web server to do the translations, this also effectively creates two web APIs you use (though arguably you wouldn’t support consumption of the JSON API).
  2. Reverse Proxy – This allows you to remove any difficulty with Javascript dealing with cross-port requests, but you’re going to be leveraging something like Apache CXF for the web services.
  3. Direct Communication – vCenter and VMware’s APIs already exist over HTTPS for web services, if you serve up the single-page application from the same domain/port in a hybrid host setup there will be no additional overhead!

In-Browser Remote Console

Now this is the one piece I will detail is pretty experimental, and by all means feel free to fall back to a Flash/Java console, but what I’d really like to see is a true in-browser console, look at solutions like Guacamole which runs a full VNC client in-browser. Of course there may be some barriers here (Guacamole requires server-side code, not sure how much overhead is acceptable on the Busybox management VM on vSphere).

The only feature I can’t think of reproducing in HTML5 is direct device access required for mounting ISOs/USB devices.

Addressing The Single Point of Failure

These thin API layers (or in one case non-existent) allows not only vCenter to support these single-page web applications, but also the individual hosts. Now it becomes safe to completely scrap the old vSphere desktop clients.

Browser Security

Trevor Pott does some hand-waving about security issues on browsers, and then goes in to complain that the problem really relies with Flash and Java Applets. I’d recommend dropping auto-sign on removing all need for plugins and leaving it at that.

The current desktop client embeds Java applets for some 3rd party tools, so to say it’s more secure is silly.

Speed

The old Windows client is imperceptible. Click and the info is there. Expanding a tree just completes in a time frame so short that a human can’t tell there was a delay.

Yeah, I’m not going to stand by this stance at all, the desktop client is a massively bloated slow piece of garbage. It eats a massive amount of memory, is prone to killing consoles and requiring you to play whack-a-mole in your process manager to kill the spawned processes and get it online again.

The web client is slower, but the desktop client isn’t some kind of idea of what we’d want to achieve, that was pretty bad to begin with.

Using PowerCLI it seems like most operations are pretty instant, so it just seems to be entirely overhead on the applications themselves, so a well-written single-page application could easily handle this and be lightning fast.

What’s ultimately the damning element of this is that Internet Explorer is the most common enterprise browser. In many environments, browsers that aren’t Internet Explorer are outright banned. 

This is more of a problem with your work environment than the web application itself. If you’re on IE11, things are pretty decent (Javascript is fast, support for modern things is pretty up to date). If you’re at a company that keeps you on IE8 and wont let you install Chrome, that is absolutely no fault of VMware’s.

 Other Options and Why I Think They’re Not Good Routes

Native Application

This is going back to the roots of the vSphere desktop client, which generally comes with the same problems (going to be Windows only). I highly doubt VMware will write some GTK+ Windows/Mac/Linux client. So far VMware has still been unwilling to patch a major problem with RVC, so I don’t think they’re giving attention to more “hip” languages like Python and Ruby.

Cross-Platform Application

The next option is planning on a cross-platform application, and I know what they’re going to do: what ever other vendor has done.

Java.

I don’t really think I need to say more, I have a love/hate relationship with Java, but most system admins have just the hate side. Mainly it comes down to writing cross-platform applications can be more costly in languages that aren’t like Java with a nice solid platform.

Mono is also an option, but I have a feeling VMware won’t jump on that boat this early.

Freebies

By far, one of the best parts of major infrastructure decisions: freebies. Additional features or supported platforms with reduced, little or no effort. This list is by no means exhaustive.

OSX/Linux Support

This has been a goal off and on for VMware, obviously fully HTML5 will get you 98% of functionality on OSX and Linux, with minor plugins needed for device management.

Mobile Support

Take that single-page web application, wrap it in a delivery method like PhoneGap, stylize it so that it fits better on the device (different CSS files for phone/tablet), and you’re going to have not just a small subset of features (like most current mobile apps available), but the ability to fully manage your VMware cluster from the ground up.

Overall

There is no reason that VMware should have shipped the web client in it’s current state, nor is it an example of why VMware shouldn’t dedicate resources to writing solid web-based management software, it misses most of the point while throwing all of it’s resources into a dying framework. A bit of design centered around delivering the things customers have been asking for could lead to a product that will put all competitors to shame, instead of turning them away from vSphere.

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