VSphere Rounds Into Form

VMware's vSphere 4.0 cloud operating system, which we tested last June, ushered in new methods to manage virtual machines on internal and external hosts. The 4.1 version, which shipped last month, delivers some much needed polish. Additions to the product include an updated vCenter Configuration Manager (formerly EMC's Ionix Application Stack Manager and Server Configuration Manager) as well as vCenter Application Discovery Manager (formerly EMC's Ionix Application Discovery Manager).

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Prices now range from the free basic hypervisor to Enterprise Plus at $3,495 per processor.

Of the features tested, we found vMotion to have the most immediate effect for administrators, although those trying to cram as many VMs as possible onto a physical server will find newly reduced memory overhead and memory compression options to be highly desirable. After all, virtualization is all about optimization.

VMware 4.1 contains a sorely needed feature, the ability to use vMotion to move more than one VM at a time from server host to server host. VSphere 4.1 allows several VMs to move concurrently, but with a small catch.

The catch is that the source and target machines still need to be similar to each other in terms of processor type, and there needs to be a connection between the machines with reasonable speed - the two Gigabit Ethernet jacks found on most servers will do the job for at least four concurrent VM moves, we found in testing. (See our test methodology.)

With a 10GB switch, enterprise customers can expect to be able to move eight machines at once across a VMware cluster.

These improvements address the issue of how to quickly get production virtual machines off a failing hardware platform. When hardware sends alarms that problems are occurring, maintaining production requires moving the dense number of operating systems instances to another platform rapidly, and eight VMs at a time seems to be a good number.

In the not too distant future, however, the number of CPU sockets and the multiple CPU cores filling servers will lead to organizations cramming even more instances into them, thus elevating the need for still more instances to be moved quickly.And as servers become crammed with more instances, the need for load balancing CPUs and resources becomes more critical. The ability to move groups of VM assets from one server to another goes a long way towards maintaining peak performance from the multi-core servers now popular in network operations centers and data centers.

Upgrade drama

VSphere 4.1's core management application, vCenter, now runs only on 64-bit hosts. Upgrades to existing 32-bit platforms, like our Windows 2003 Server R2 host, aren't allowed, so some administrators will have to upgrade to 64-bit versions of their vCenter host.

Or you can just re-install, which is a more painful exercise. There are upgrade scripts to copy the database, but instructions aren't clear and we couldn't get it to work with our MS SQL Server 2005, as migration scripts failed. We gave up and created a new vCenter data center and imported the ESX machines (switching them to the new vCenter server).

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