VMware Aims Virtualization Toward The Cloud With vSphere

VMware on Tuesday unveiled vSphere, its next-generation virtualization technology on which customers and partners can virtualize data center resources to build cloud computing infrastructures.

The new VMware vSphere 4, in addition to the traditional server virtualization functionality of the VMware ESX and ESXi and VMware Infrastructure 3 on which it is built, is aimed at aggregating and managing processors, storage and networking as part of a dynamic operating environment.

Those capabilities are a necessary part of building a cloud computing infrastructure, VMware said.

Cloud computing is a way to dynamically combine and scale server, storage, networking and other resources outside of a company's own traditional data center for such purposes as remote data storage or running Software-as-a-Service. A company can build an internal cloud, which allows those resources to be available for its own purposes, or can use external clouds, which are available over the Internet.

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VSphere is the base on which IT as a service can be built, said Bogomil Balkansky, vice president of product marketing in VMware's server business unit.

"It hides the complexity of the infrastructure from the people who use the infrastructure," Balkansky said.

Application deployment today requires a lot of manual processes, but with the right technology it could be automated, the first step in building a complete cloud infrastructure, Balkansky said.

So far, industry discussions on cloud computing have focused on external clouds, but the primary discussion going forward is on how customers can develop internal clouds and connect them to external clouds, Balkansky said.

"VSphere is technology to help customers turn their data centers into internal clouds," he said. "It will help ISPs build cloud infrastructures. And it will help customers take advantage of external clouds, move into and out of external clouds, and use both internal and external clouds in what we call the private cloud."

VSphere 4 offers to improve the performance and scalability of virtual IT infrastructures in several ways.

It enables the building of more powerful virtual servers, Balkansky said. For instance, a virtual server can now be configured with up to eight virtual processors compared to four with VI3, and up to 10 virtual network interface cards compared to four NICs previously. They can also be configured with up to 255 GB of memory per virtual machine, or four times what was previously possible.

In addition to more powerful virtual machines, vSphere 4 also scales much farther than its predecessor, with the ability to cluster up to 32 physical servers with 2,048 processor cores, 32 TB of RAM, 16 PB of storage and 8,000 network ports into a single logical resource pool, Balkansky said.

VMware also has added new capabilities to help improve data center efficiency.

New with vSphere 4 is VMware vStorage Thin Provisioning, which allows customers to overprovision the storage capacity of virtual machines while not actually tying physical storage capacity to a particular machine.

Also new is VMware Distributed Power Management, a new technology that uses VMware's VMotion function for automatic migration of virtual servers between physical servers to move as many virtual servers to as few physical servers as possible in order to power down unneeded physical servers to cut power and cooling costs.

Other new features include VMware Fault Tolerance, a technology that allows a virtual machine to fail over to another on a separate physical server to ensure application uptime; VMware Storage VMotion, which provides live migration of virtual server data across heterogeneous networked storage types; VMware Data Recovery for disk-based backup and recovery; and VMware vShield Zones to enforce corporate security policies in a shared environment.

While many of the new features overlap with technology offered by storage and security vendors and others who traditionally have built products that work with VMware, the company expects its technology partners to find new ways to work with vSphere, said Stephen Herrod, CTO and senior vice president of research and development at VMware.

For example, Herrod cited thin provisioning and security, which also are provided by a variety of storage vendor partners.

"But our storage partners, like NetApp and EMC, also provide thin provisioning with higher performance and more features," he said. "So we give customers a choice. For security, we provide zones, like managed firewalls. But partners' products will be richer, and with better performance. "We definitely have overlap at some level. But we've been talking to partners."

VSphere offers the ability to lift any customer application away from the underlying hardware and be run in internal and external clouds, said Rick Jackson, chief marketing officer at VMware.

"Everybody's grasping for the cloud," Jackson said. "But how can they get there? It's unlikely a customer can throw their infrastructure over the wall and into the cloud. So we are saying, bring the cloud into the data center."

It is something customers have been waiting to do, as evidenced by the move to adopt SaaS, Jackson said. "But the problem is, if a company has a business application that can't be ripped from the user's IT infrastructure, it can't be moved to a SaaS platform," he said. "Why not let us abstract that application so it can be run in a cloud?"

Next: Introducing vSphere To Partners

Now that VMware has introduced vSphere, the next step is to introduce a number of discrete steps that will help bridge the gap between the traditional data center and the cloud, Jackson said. This includes introducing reference architectures, best practices and skill sets to partners in order to ensure they are ready to help customers move to the cloud.

"We'll work first with our larger partners, and then take the results to our other partners," he said. "This journey will take time. But we've got to get them going, and moving on the right path."

VMware has already started preparing its solution provider partners for the introduction of vSphere, said Carl Eschenbach, executive vice president of worldwide field operations at VMware.

The company has already put in place a sales and training program for vSphere to help solution providers prepare to sell and deploy the new technology and start getting ready for cloud computing, Eschenbach said.

It also has revamped its channel organization to split it into three geographies, each with its own general manager, and has eliminated the $5,400 it used to charge partners to gain access to the company's services capabilities.

Eschenbach also introduced VMware's new Partner Central, a new partner portal built on top of technology from Salesforce.com. Expected to be launched late this quarter, Partner Central includes such features as a partner locator and a variety of marketing material partners can use.

During the third quarter of this year, VMware also will launch a new partner portal specific to license renewals, which Eschenbach said has been a major challenge for partners.

VMware vSphere is expected to be available later this quarter in six editions.

VSphere 4 Essentials will be available to small businesses with a price of $995 for three physical dual-processor servers. VSphere 4 Essentials Plus, which adds high availability and data protection capabilities, is priced at $2,995 for three physical servers.

For the data center, vSphere 4 Standard includes thin provisioning and other advanced capabilities starting at $795 per processor. vSphere 4 Advanced adds VMotion VMware Fault Tolerance, VMware Data Recovery and VMware vShield Zones, and will be priced at $2,245 per processor. VSphere 4 Enterprise adds automated resource management, and is priced at $2,875 per processor. And vSphere 4 Enterprise Plus includes the company's new vNetwork Distributed Switch, built on Cisco technology, with a price of $3,495 per processor.