First Look: VMware VSphere 5 Looms Large

Automated host deployment, revamped HA, large-scale VM support, and storage automation features rev up vSphere for big shops

By Paul Venezia
Tue, August 23, 2011

InfoWorld — As we rapidly approach yet another VMworld conference and the general release of VMware (VMW) vSphere 5, it's clear that VMware hasn't been resting on its laurels. The newest version of vSphere builds on the strong foundations of vSphere 4.1, showcasing new management and automation features and levels of scalability.

Almost to a feature, the new capabilities mainly benefit larger environments, at a time when smaller shops may find what they need at lower prices among VMware's competitors. As I noted in the virtualization shoot-out earlier this year, VMware's still the king of the hill, but the competition is climbing fast.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "Virtualization shoot-out: Citrix, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware" | Editor in Chief Eric Knorr urges IT: Modernize or else. | Keep up on the day's tech news with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

VMware once enjoyed the advantages of having the only virtualization solution with big-ticket features like vMotion, DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler), and HA (High Availability), but those features -- or reasonable facsimiles -- are now present in competing solutions from Red Hat, Microsoft (MSFT), and Citrix. This pushes the feature race up the ladder, as features beyond the core virtualization group have a smaller audience, and they're more likely to be useful in enterprise infrastructures.

The big new features in vSphere 5 include a scalability bump allowing VMs to have 32-way SMP and 1TB of RAM, a redesigned HA architecture, storage DRS, profile-driven storage, automated host deployment, a new Linux-based vCenter Server appliance, and the elimination of ESX in favor of ESXi. These are very handy new features for larger environments, especially the new HA design, assuming it proves less finicky than the previous incarnation.

VMware vSphere 5: Big additionsStorage DRS and profile-driven storage are two other features that will make an impact. Storage DRS is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to have vSphere automatically trigger migrations of VM disks when capacity or performance of a particular storage array eclipses certain thresholds. In concert with normal DRS, this allows vSphere to load-balance the entire infrastructure, from the CPU and RAM utilization in the hosts through the storage space and disk I/O on the back end. Storage DRS also introduces the concept of storage maintenance mode, which functions much like host maintenance mode. This allows an administrator to automate the evacuation of all VMs running on an array. Large shops with significant numbers of storage arrays will really dig into these new features.

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