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VMware Opens New World with vSphere

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Apr 22, 2009


If you can remember all the way back to last Wednesday, this week was gearing up to belong to VMware. With the media abuzz and seemingly aware of the incipient news, the announcement of a little merger early Monday morning bumped it out of the "Hot" category and into the "Important." Not a terrible place to be but doubtful what VMware was aiming for. Virtually Speaking: With vSphere, VMware heads for the cloud while keeping its feet firmly planted on data center ground. Will it offer both the vision and terra firma enterprises are seeking?

Call it bad timing if you will. But even with Sun and Oracle, and a bit of HP (which had an equally compelling announcement this week) stealing the show, VMware's announcement should not be underplayed.

On Tuesday, VMware unveiled what Leena Joshi, senior product marketing manager, described to ServerWatch as "the mainframe for the 21st century" — the next version of VMware Infrastructure, which going forward shall be known as vSphere 4.0.

(If you're a bit confused as to how a new product can have the 4.0 moniker, consider it continuity. The previous release number of VMware Infrastructure was 3.0.)

In beta now, vSphere will be available for purchase next month and is expected to begin shipping at the end of the second quarter.

VMware is billing vSphere as "revolutionary" and indeed it changes the model. Joshi noted VMware is the "only company bringing cloud to the enterprise." While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, the primary driver — customers' frustration with the current model, where IT is the gatekeeper — rings true.

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VSphere aims to resolve many of these issues, and Joshi believes it has done it so well that "with the performance enhancements, there is no reason not to be 100 percent virtualized."

So what does vSphere do? At a macro level, it brings the cloud into the data center, or turns the data center into a cloud, allowing data to move back and forth between the internal and external cloud. It is part of VMware's vCloud Initiative, which launched in September 2008 and is currently made up of 500 partners, Dan Chu, vice president of Emerging Products and Markets, told ServerWatch.

There was a time when this was known as grid computing or utility computing; there was also a time when if the V-word was uttered in relation to either, technology vendors would bristle. Not anymore.

For better or worse, virtualization and cloud computing have become increasingly wedded to one another, and VMware is going with that trend. With vSphere it is "establishing a common platform and working with cloud providers to develop a platform so that there can be back and forth [between internal and external clouds]," Joshi said.

And vSphere does so quite efficiently. VMware is claiming a 30 percent increase in consolidation ratios compared to VMware Infrastructure 3, and a 20 percent savings in power and cooling. It also claims a savings as high as 50 percent in storage with VMware vStorage Thin Provisioning.

To make the cloud-based solution feasible for enterprises, vSphere also addresses the issues of fault tolerance and security. For example, the vNetwork Distributed Switch, for which Cisco is a key partner with its Cisco Nexus 500V, provides granularity to sys admins. Other third-party switches are also available.

The final major area vSphere addresses is security. Security has long been a bugbear issue for both cloud and virtualization. VMware is taking a two-pronged approach: federating internal clouds based on the open virtualization standard, V-app, and vShield Zones, a firewall that is part of vSphere.

Since "choice" is an underlying theme of vSphere, it is not surprising that it will be available in six versions, priced from $166 per processor upward. It's a fairly complex pricing scheme, and it is not entirely clear yet what functionality comes at which price point.

As Gartner analyst and security expert Neil MacDonald notes in his blog:

It isn't clear is which versions of vSphere will include the vShield technology and at what cost? Second, I hope to see that support for hardware-based root of trust measurements of the vSphere platform made it into the shipping release. Third, VMsafe is cool, but what can be used for good can also be used for bad. I want to see tight mandatory access controls on the applications and APIs that enable VMsafe.

So if you're considering migrating or upgrading to vSphere be sure you know exactly what you're getting at the price point you're willing to pay.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is coauthoring a book about virtualization that is scheduled for publication in October 2009.

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