VMware vSphere 4 Raises the Virtualization Bar

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2009-06-07

VMware vSphere 4 Raises the Virtualization Bar

VMware has changed the name of its flagship VMware Infrastructure to VMware vSphere 4, and in the process has added new switching and management features that raise the bar for x86 data center virtualization technology.

The VMware marketing team has been working overtime to promote vSphere 4 as the first cloud operating system. IT managers can safely set aside this breathless chatter and focus on the fact that vSphere will allow IT departments to place application workloads on the most cost-effective compute resource.

vSphere 4 puts VMware well ahead of the virtualization pack. Click here for images. 

With its new vNetwork Distributed Switch and support for third-party, integrated network switches-including the forthcoming Cisco Nexus 1000v-vSphere 4 removes barriers that made it difficult to implement and manage virtual machine infrastructure on a large scale.

The advances made in this version of VMware's infrastructure platform also include new linked management consoles, host profiles that ease ESX Server creation and maintenance operations, and enhanced virtual machine performance monitors. These new capabilities place vSphere 4 well ahead of Microsoft's Hyper-V platform and open-source projects based on the Xen hypervisor, and earn the new VMware platform an eWEEK Labs Analyst's Choice award.

Eyes and Ears of the Platform

The eyes and ears of vSphere 4 is the significantly updated VirtualCenter, now called vCenter Server 4.0. vCenter Server still runs on a Windows-based system, which can be either a physical or virtual machine. Large installations will need to also provide access to either a Microsoft SQL Server system or an Oracle database system to store and organize server data.

vCenter Server provides a very handy search-based navigation function that enabled me during tests to quickly find virtual machines, physical hosts and other inventory objects based on a wide variety of criteria. For example, I was able to find physical hosts using more than 10 different characteristics, including power state and virtual machine properties. This is a good tool for quickly locating unused virtual machines and, for IT managers in large networks, is in itself a compelling reason to consider vSphere 4.

In addition to making it significantly easier to monitor and manage virtual machines, vSphere 4-with the vNetwork Distributed Switch-has taken a big step forward in easing the management burden of virtual networks.

Until now, a standard virtual network switch was created and managed on each ESX Server system. Using the vNetwork Distributed Switch, I was able to create virtual switches that spanned multiple ESX hosts.

For large VMware installations, it is hard to overstate the importance of this advance. The time savings in avoiding per-ESX switch configuration changes alone will likely be significant.

vSphere 4 also allows the integration of third-party distributed switches.

The Cisco Nexus 1000v, which is at the end of its beta cycle, is the first announced switch in this category. If the Nexus 1000v fulfills its promise, it will usher a significant talent pool of Cisco-trained network engineers into the world of server virtualization. This would likely relieve system engineers who have been doing double duty with virtual machine and virtual network tasks, while adding some much-needed network architecture experts to the data center virtualization mix.

IT managers can access multiple vCenter Servers from the vSphere Client interface. During tests, this allowed me to see and manage virtual machines and network switches on all of my vCenter Servers installed in the lab. I also linked these vCenter Servers together, another new function, which enabled me to share administrative roles.

This is a good example of the management features included in vSphere 4 that should help preserve the cost-savings that have been realized from server consolidation projects.

Performance Monitors


Performance Monitors

Tests at eWEEK Labs showed that VMware has succeeded in bolstering physical and virtual machine performance monitors. Some of these changes are as simple as the addition of an "overview" button to the host performance tab that shows a variety of system measures-such as CPU, memory, disk and network utilization-in charts simultaneously.

It's now much easier to move among performance charts by clicking on thumbnails to get detailed information about components on individual data centers, clusters or hosts. And another nice touch is the addition of context-sensitive information that is a button-click away from each data chart.

It's good to see VMware exposing the performance data in this way. IT managers who have extensive nonvirtualized systems may want to look at third-party tools from companies such as BMC that integrate virtual and physical-only system management to get a complete picture of data center performance.

In my tests, I was able to spend only a few minutes with the vCenter Orchestrator, which is a workflow automation tool. As I build out the vSphere test infrastructure, I'll be reporting on how Orchestrator works in managing the deployment and configuration of systems in the VMware infrastructure.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at csturdevant@eweek.com.


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