VMware Launches vSphere 5, Unleashes 'Monster Virtual Machines'


VMware on Thursday officially launched vSphere 5, the first major update to the cloud operating system it unveiled just over two years ago, and a product the company plans to use to maintain its dominance of the server virtualization market.

vSphere 5 introduces the idea of "monster" virtual machines -- i.e., powerful VMs that can tear down technical and psychological barriers to organizations moving their mission critical applications into virtual environments.

VMware has boosted the performance and capacity of vSphere 5 VMs by a factor of four, with support for up to 32 virtual CPUs and one terabyte of virtual RAM, compared to 8 virtual CPUs and 256 gigabytes of RAM in vSphere 4.

With vSphere 5 now generally available through distribution, VMware partners can begin offering quotes to customers on a release that VMware expects to dramatically increase penetration of virtualization within its customer base.

Ken Phelan, CTO of Gotham Technology Partners, a solution provider based in Montvale, N.J., says many of his customers have resisted virtualizing Exchange, SQL and Oracle applications because of their large hardware requirements, but he expects vSphere 5 to eliminate these concerns.

"Getting these last servers virtualized is a big win for VMware. There’s significant advantage to having all of the servers virtualized. It’s now a single operating platform and a single disaster recovery strategy," Phelan said.

But vSphere 5 does a lot more than just enable customers to virtualize bigger applications. Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider, points to key changes VMware has made to its paravirtual SCSI adapter (PVSCSI), which aids performance in virtual environments with heavy I/O throughput.

With vSphere 5's monster VMs, "PVSCSI reduces CPU cycles and consumption, and that boosts throughput for intensive workloads," said Shepard.

VMware has also boosted networking and storage throughput so that vSphere 5 virtual machines can more quickly execute the round trip from the application above to the hardware below. According to VMware executives, vSphere 5 virtual machines can now handle an application with a transaction rate of 2 billion transactions a day, and they exceed Microsoft's maximum configuration for running Exchange.

VMware has also baked in several new automation features in vSphere 5 that power Intelligent Policy Management, a feature that enables customers to set policies for the workloads they need to run -- such as storage, performance, security, backup, and disaster recovery -- and have the underlying infrastructure provision necessary services and manage the SLA on an ongoing basis.

Another new addition, Auto-Deploy, helps to speed the deployment and patching of hosts in the virtual environment in vSphere 5. Also new in vSphere 5 is Storage Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), an extension of DRS, a VMware feature that automatically moves applications around in a pool of machines to optimize performance.

No discussion of vSphere 5 would be complete without mentioning the licensing model changes VMware introduced with vSphere 5, which calculates costs based on the amount of vRAM, or memory that customers allocate to virtual machines on the host.

After an outcry from customers when VMware first unveiled vRAM in July, the company earlier this month raised vRAM allotments -- in some cases doubling customers' licensing entitlement -- and capped the amount of vRAM that customers pay for to 96 GB per VM.

This last move was key to enabling customers to actually build monster VMs without a huge financial impact. While there's been some debate about the long term implications of the vRAM model, VMware partners seem satisfied with the fact that VMware listened to their concerns and changed its terms.

"People were concerned about vRAM, but now that VMware has addressed that, they just want to get their hands on [vSphere 5]," said Keith Norbie, vice president and CTO at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider.