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VMware upgrade reaches for the clouds

Faster hypervisor and improved management features allow virtual machines to span internal/external server farms

By Tom Henderson and Brendan Allen, ExtremeLabs, Network World
June 15, 2009 12:01 AM ET

Network World - VMware's vSphere 4.0 is a massive update to VMware's flagship hypervisor and management toolset that will put significant pressure on Microsoft and the Xen development community.

Slideshow of 5 things we love and hate about VMware's vSphere 4.0

We found vSphere faster than its predecessor, VMWare's ESX 3.51, easier to manage, and good for provisioning fleets (dare we say 'clouds'?) of virtual machine farms.

As part of its updated licensing scheme, the company offers vSphere in four gradations called Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus, which costs a hefty $3,495 per processor.

The basic components of what VMWare calls the vSphere 'cloud operating system' are an improved hypervisor and VMware's VirtualCenter management application, along with graduated improvements per edition, including options like vMotion (live VM inter-server migration), vSphere Zones (network security aggregation), distributed resource allocation, and even a distributed network switch.

These improvements allow vSphere 4.0 to manage and automate provisioning of internally-controlled VM farms and infrastructure with hosting platforms located outside an organizations traditional computing 'perimeter'.

In terms of enterprise deployment options, we recommend the Standard package for internal use only. A secure deployment also calls for advanced firewalls, virtual LANs, authentication, and VPNs. Many organizations already have these security resources on hand. Others will find that the additional resources feel like a tax.

The pricier Enterprise versions are needed to control external server resources. However, the 'full meal deal' still provides cost effectiveness compared with provisioning individual servers with dedicated apps/line-of-business applications. Longer term, as the cost of hardware falls, the VM substrate, while convenient, could lose some of that cost effectiveness.

Powerful new features

The term cloud is synonymous with what were once called 'farms' or 'hotels' in systems terminology. To this end, VMware has added many components to the core of what was once VMware Infrastructure and its ESX hypervisor that manage the aggregate assets associated with virtualization for an enterprise.

For example, vSphere adds to Microsoft's own Powershell as the basis for new vSphere commandlets. These VMware PowerCLI 'cmdlets' allowed us to mass-provision a 'skyful' of virtual machines into the computing geography of our choice.

There more than 150 cmdlets available, and while their use is just as terse as those cmdlets provided by Microsoft, they're also very powerful in some cases. We could provision massive numbers of VMs with a simple PowerShell script, and tear them down just as easily. Security for use of PowerCLI cmdlets is controlled strictly via Microsoft's Active Directory services, which need to be perfected prior to deployment. An absconded administrative logon could wreak havoc.

Obtaining this functionality for VMware ESX existing servers via upgrade was mindlessly simple in our lab environment. We used an NFS share to load the upgrade components — a CD or DVD of the upgrade components can't be used.

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