VMwares App Makes the Cut

GSX Server 2.5 is a good choice for server consolidation; boasts an improved management interface

VMware Inc.s GSX Server 2.5 is a good choice for Wintel shops looking to consolidate their server infrastructure to increase CPU utilization and streamline management efficiencies.

GSX Server is designed to allow enterprise IT managers to roll out multiple virtual servers (guest operating systems) to run within a large Intel Corp.-based server platform (multiprocessor host server). GSX Server 2.5, released earlier this month, supports as many as 32 host processors, 64GB of host memory and 64 powered-on virtual machines.

The VMware software runs as an application on top of a host operating system and partitions guest operating systems into virtual machines within the host. The virtual machines are securely isolated to function just like separate servers. System resources are systematically allocated to the virtual guest systems based on need, providing mainframe-level capacity utilization.

Each virtual machine within the host has its own virtual hardware components: processor, memory, disk, media devices and networking device. The virtual machines can be linked via virtual networks that are bridged to the hardware NIC. Each virtual machine also has its own isolated data file that can be copied for quick provisioning or easily backed up onto tape.

GSX Server supports high-end multiprocessor host servers, but each virtual machine partition can handle only one processor. The lack of symmetric multiprocessing support in the virtual machines could limit the kinds of applications that can be run on older servers with slower processors.

GSX Server supports Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and Windows Server 2003 Release Candidate 2 (all editions) as host operating systems.

New in this release of GSX Server, and welcome for shops looking to reduce licensing costs, is support for several Linux server distributions as host operating system.

On the guest operating system side, GSX Server supports the full range of Windows client and server operating system as well as most Linux distributions, including those from Red Hat Inc., SuSE Linux AG, MandrakeSoft S.A. and Turbolinux Inc. GSX Server also supports Novell Inc.s NetWare as a guest operating system.

By offering a comprehensive level of operating system support, GSX Server will easily fit into almost any Wintel shop, offering easy migration of existing environments into a consolidation structure.

GSX Server is one of three virtual machine solutions available from VMware.

VMwares ESX Server software offers mainframe-class native hardware virtualization for high-end enterprise applications. ESX Server directly partitions hardware systems into pools of logical computing resources without the need for a host operating system, providing higher performance with less overhead. ESX Server is more suitable for sites that want to consolidate demanding applications on the x86 server platform.

VMware Workstation is designed for technical professionals such as software developers who need to run multiple virtual desktop operating systems for better productivity.

GSX Server is priced starting at $3,025 for a two-processor host system, including 12 months of product maintenance and support. The price doubles, to $6,050, for a four-processor system. VMwares pricing is competitive with other server virtualization software on the market, including SWSoft Inc.s Virtuozzo 2.5 and Ensim Corp.s Virtual Private Server.

eWEEK Labs installed GSX Server on a two-way server running Windows 2000 Advanced Server with Service Pack 3.

After we installed GSX Server, we launched Virtual Machine Wizard to create virtual machines. The wizard allowed us to easily configure the initial settings for the virtual machines, such as location of virtual machine data stores, allocation of memory and type of virtual networking.

Each virtual machine can be configured with as many as six virtual NICs connected to the physical network or to virtual networks running internally, providing greater flexibility in server applications.

After we created the virtual machines, we installed the operating system using a Windows 2000 Advanced Server CD, just as we would on a physical server.

We could also create virtual machines using a virtual disk containing the entire guest operating system configured like a real server. We could copy a virtual disk to another GSX Server system over the network to quickly roll out another virtual machine.

The virtual disks can be configured in nonpersistent and undoable disk modes. When set in these modes, the virtual disk will log all writes to the disk in a redo log file.

In nonpersistent mode, all changes are discarded when the virtual machine powers off so that the system will always come back in the same state.

In undoable mode, the user will be asked to save or discard changes when powering off the virtual machine. These modes are especially useful for server provisioning in a demonstration or application-testing environment.

During eWEEK Labs tests, we were impressed with GSX Server 2.5s management capabilities. Setting up virtual machines was a straightforward process, and managing the GSX Server host system was a snap using the new VMware Management Interface. The interface provides a central point of management for all virtual machines within a host system and will allow administrators to remotely manage an entire rack of host servers using a Web browser.

VMware Remote Console allowed us to connect to a virtual machine and gain complete control of the system—much like wed be able to do with a Microsoft Corp. Terminal Services session. Multiple Remote Console users can connect to a single virtual machine to perform collaborative tasks.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at [email protected]