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vSphere 5.1: A Worthy Upgrade Admins Will Love

Managing a large number of VMs and all the associated networking and storage is no small feat, but new features in vSphere 5.1 make it possible to accomplish that job from literally anywhere you can connect to the network.

VMware recently released an upgrade to their vSphere product with many new and improved features. The shiny new vSphere Web Client in vSphere 5.1 has to be one of the bright lights in this release, making it so much easier to manage a VMware environment.

vCenter Single Sign-on gets the other vote for the most beneficial tool in the box. This piece gives an administrator access to all instances of vCenter with no need to re-enter any authentication credentials. In large installations this should greatly reduce the pain and suffering experienced by administrators in previous versions.

On the numbers front, there's support in version 5.1 for up to 64 virtual CPUs and 1 TB of RAM per virtual machine. There's also a new virtual machine format with support for larger virtual machines, CPU performance counters and an enhanced virtual shared graphics acceleration feature.

The new disk format also supports improvements for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) implementations to help administrators balance between saving space and I/O performance. Other enhanced areas include the vSphere Distributed Switch, vSphere vMotion, VMware vSphere 5.1vSphere Data Protection and Replication. Of particular note, there is new support in the 5.1 release for live machine migrations without shared storage.

Install or Upgrade

You can either install a new copy or upgrade an existing ESXi system from the boot CD-ROM. The overall process is relatively painless and in our case we were able to complete the upgrade in less than fifteen minutes.

We had previously installed ESXi 5.0 on an HP DL385 G7 that has two AMD Opteron 6274 processors with 16-cores each. This system also has 128 GB of memory installed along with eight 600GB 10K SAS disk drives. It's definitely a screamer and can handle just about any virtual workload you want to throw at it.

This same upgrade process will need to be accomplished on all ESXi physical host machines in order to take advantage of all the new features. Depending on your configuration, you may need to upgrade other pieces as well.

VMware does a great job with their documentation and provides a comprehensive upgrade guide to help lead you through the process. There are some pieces that need to be upgraded first, like the host machines. It also gives details on how to use VMware upgrade manager to automate the entire process.

vSphere 5.1 - Fig 1vCenter Server

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get vCenter Server up and running is to download the VMware vCenter Server Appliance. You can get the .ova file from the VMware download site and then upload it to a VMware ESXi host using the vSphere client.

We did have to upgrade our vSphere client to the latest version before it would connect to the new host. You'll receive a warning when you launch the client and try to connect to a host running ESXi 5.1, with a dialog box allowing you to upgrade (see Figure 1).

Once you have the vCenter Server virtual machine installed you'll have an added bonus of instant access to the new Web Client. The vSphere 5.1 Web Client provides all the functionality of the desktop client and then some.

vSphere 5.1 - Fig 2It does use Adobe Flash, though, so you'll need that installed on any client you wish to use for accessing the vSphere Web Client. Managing a large number of VMs and all the associated networking and storage is no small task. With vSphere 5.1 it's now possible to accomplish that job from literally anywhere you can connect to the network.

Information screens like the one in Figure 2 have been updated to show you pertinent information in a customizable fashion. You can see it with little touches like tags and the fact that the Web Client supports up to 300 concurrent users.

vSphere 5.1 - Fig 3Tags can be used to associate, or group, and assign items to one or more vCenter objects. You still have desktop-like functionality complete with the ability to right-click on an object to perform a specific task (see Figure 3). The Web Client does graphics as well, as seen in the virtual switch manager (see Figure 4).

On the down side, there are a few things you cannot accomplish with the vSphere Web Client. For example, you can't access the vSphere Update Manager from the Web Client or import and export host profiles.

If you've been using the vSphere Windows client, you will need to spend some time getting used to the user interface as some of the functionality and navigation has changed. vSphere 5.1 - Fig 4The good news is the changes all make sense and do add a lot in the way of usability.

Bottom Line

VMware has delivered more than incremental updates with the 5.1 release of vSphere and all the associated pieces that make up their vCloud suite. From an administrator's perspective, the new Web Client is definitely worth the pain of upgrading. Combined with the other enhancements, it makes this release a winner and one you should not ignore.

Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.

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This article was originally published on November 13, 2012
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