Virtually Speaking: Balm to Soothe the Virtualized Enterprise

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Oct 9, 2007


Amy Newman
VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 is a salve for a trifecta of enterprise woes: storage, patching and power management.

It was only a matter of time before storage entered the VMware lexicon, especially after the toe dipping it began in late September. The deep pockets behind it were filled from storage offerings, and many of the storage vendors have been scrambling to get virtualization-friendly versions of their software camera-ready.

So it should come as no surprise that storage looms large in the next version of Virtual Infrastructure, which VMware announced on Monday.

The release, which is expected to go gold by the end of the year, is an ambitious undertaking. It will include the new VMware ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 along with a trifecta of new technology — VMware Storage VMotion, VMware Update Manager and VMware Distributed Power Management. The three modules touch on key pain points server admins face in the physical and virtual worlds alike.

Storage VMotion is the biggest enhancement to the release, Bogomil Balkansky, senior director of product marketing, told ServerWatch. As its name implies, Storage VMotion is similar to the classic iteration of VMotion, with a storage twist.

Storage VMotion extends VMotion to storage resources of a virtual machine, namely virtual disks. With Storage VMotion, enterprises can live migrate virtual machine disks from one data storage system to another. Admins can also use it to migrate virtual machine disks to the best available storage resource to balance the storage workload and address performance bottlenecks.

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Storage VMotion is designed to minimize service disruption inherent with storage array upgrades as well as cut down on the coordination efforts between application and server owners.

Storage capabilities themselves have also been enhanced in this release. ESX Server 3.5 and 3i (the embedded version) and will support SATA local storage, 10 Gig Ethernet and Infiniband.

Patching and updating servers is a headache in a one-to-one environment, and it grows exponentially more complex in a virtual environment. Using third-party software, VMware Update Manager automates patch and update management for VMware ESX Server hosts and Red Hat Linux and Windows powered virtual machines, Balkansky said.

Update Manager will track patch levels and manually apply the latest security or bug fixes. The module can be integrated with VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) if zero downtime is required.

Power is an ever-increasing issue for data centers of all types and sizes. Here, too, VMware is hoping to have customers covered. Balkansky said he sees "big potential for conserving electricity" with Distributed Power Management, an "experimental feature" that aims to reduce power consumption through intelligent workload balancing. Working in conjunction with VMware DRS, Distributed Power Management can be set to automatically power off servers not currently needed to meet better service levels. It will then power servers on automatically as demand for compute resources increases.

In addition to new modules, VMware also made improvements to the core of its virtual offerings, VMware ESX Server. Versions 3.5 and 3i will offer support for the following: hardware nested page tables; paravirtualized Linux guest operating systems; virtual machines with 64GB of RAM and physical machines with up to 128GB of memory; and TCP Segment Offload and Jumbo frames to reduce CPU overhead associated with processing network I/O.

With this release, VMware hopes to expand its target market along with its feature set. VMware Guided Consolidation, a feature of VMware VirtualCenter, is designed to lure small and midsize businesses (SMBs) into the fold. Guided Consolidation steps organizations through the server consolidation process in a tutorial-like fashion, complete with a wizard that discovers physical servers, identifies consolidation candidates, converts them to virtual machines, and places them onto the best VMware ESX Server or VMware Server hosts.

As virtualization becomes more commonplace, enterprises' expectations of its capabilities will no doubt grow. While it's doubtful that one vendor can meet all enterprise needs (and for that matter the virtualization for dummies model suggested above as well), VMware is certainly looking to cover as many as possible while it's still dominating the field.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001.

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