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VMware Pumps Up Virtual Machine Performance In vSphere 5

VMware's vSphere release is all about beefing up the scale and performance of virtual machines in order to remove barriers to virtualizing mission critical apps.

Recognizing that some customers have stalled along the road to adopting virtualization, VMware is coming around with some seriously powerful jumper cables.

With Tuesday's unveiling of vSphere 5, VMware's first major update to the cloud operating system it launched in April 2009, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is boosting, by a factor of four, the performance and scalability of virtual machines. VMware is also touting new features that automate IT processes, speed execution and pave the way to its long-held vision for the self service data center.

On average, VMware's customer base was 40 percent virtualized at the end of 2010. When vSphere 5 arrives sometime in the third quarter, VMware expects to remove all remaining technology barriers to virtualization and get customers more comfortable with running mission critical applications in the virtual environment.

"We are very confident that with vSphere 5 there is absolutely nothing out there that runs on x86 that cannot be virtualized in a VMware virtual machine with appropriate performance," said Bogomil Balkansky, vice president of product marketing at VMware, in an interview.

vSphere 5's virtual machines come with 32 virtual CPUs, compared to 8 virtual CPUs in vSphere 4. vSphere 5's virtual machines can also hold one terabyte of virtual RAM, compared to 256 gigabytes for those of their predecessor. These virtual machines exceed Microsoft's maximum configuration for running Exchange, according to Balkansky.

VMware has improved 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. vSphere 5 virtual machines can now handle an application with a transaction rate of 2 billion transactions a day, Balkansky said. "We want to give confidence to customers that are running very large implementations of SQL, Oracle and SAP," he said.

Is this overkill? Perhaps, but some of VMware's larger customers are ready to tap into the additional power of vSphere 5, Balkansky said. "We don’t anticipate a lot of people creating virtual machines of this size, but we do have larger customers that are pushing the boundaries of where the virtual machine is today and want to have larger virtual machines," he said.

Eric Kaplan, vice president of engineering at Ahead, a Chicago-based solution provider, says he's got plenty of customers that will have no problem taking advantage of the additional performance.

"We've seen several large adopters of vSphere begin to rub up against the limits in vSphere 4. With expanded virtual CPU and memory support vSphere 5 will open the floodgates to having massive databases, Exchange instances and large application servers run in a virtualized environment," said Kaplan.

VMware is also touting several new automation features in vSphere 5 that power what it calls Intelligent Policy Management. This allows customers to set policies for the different workloads they need to run -- accounting for things like storage, performance, security, backup, and disaster recovery -- and have the underlying infrastructure provision all necessary services and manage the SLA on an ongoing basis.

"The challenge we have set in front of ourselves is to build enough intelligence in our cloud infrastructure stack to be able to automatically meet the service level requirements without human intervention," said Balkansky.

NEXT: Where vSphere 5 Automation Comes Into Play


Automation in vSphere helps to speed the deployment and patching of hosts in the virtual environment. Mike Adams, group manager in VMware's vSphere product marketing team, says that adding a new host in a high availability environment used to take an hour, but vSphere 5 customers will be able to do it in less than two minutes.

While patching and updating virtual machines in vSphere 4 used to require touching each individual host, vSphere can simultaneously apply patches to multiple servers, Adams said.

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. While DRS looks at CPU and memory, Storage DRS applies the same functionality to storage environments, said Adams.

Another new addition, Profile Driven Storage, lets customers group their available third party storage technologies into different classes based on performance characteristics. VMware has defined generic APIs and exposed them to all of its storage partners, and this allows Profile Driven Storage to normalize performance data from heterogeneous vendor storage arrays, said Balkansky.

"When you need to provision a new workload, you create a new virtual machine, click on a drop down menu and make your selection -- that’s it," said Balkansky. "Our automation kicks in at that point: We take the workload, look at all the available hardware storage arrays with the characteristics you selected and figure out which is the best array for you to put the new workload."

With vSphere 5, VMware is taking aim at opex cost in the data center and trying to help customers run their data centers more efficiently, and this is where the automation comes into play.

VMware is getting rid of the ESX hypervisor and going with ESXi in vSphere 5. ESXi's footprint is smaller and more streamlined, which means better security due to its smaller attack surface. In addition, the automatic deployment of hosts is only possible because of the arch in ESXi, Adams said.

There are several aspects of vSphere 5 that start to address the next layers of virtualization, said Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider.

"The second generation of server virtualization design is not just about how many operating systems you stack on one server, but understanding how to isolate in vShield zones and dealing with virtual machine sprawl," Norbie said.

Customers that deploy VMware's cloud stack -- which includes vSphere, vCenter, vShield, and vCloud Director -- will be able to cut out the manual aspect and achieve higher numbers of virtual workloads, Balkansky said.

"The reason automation is so important is the benefits associated with cloud have to do with agility and responding to business faster," Balkansky said. "The only way to satisfy service requests quickly is to automate the execution on the back end."

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