VMware To Increase Scalability, Change Pricing For Virtualization Management Tools

VMware on Tuesday expanded the capabilities of its vSphere virtualization platform with increased scalability and performance with an eye on getting customers into cloud computing, and unveiled a plan to change the way vSphere is priced.

VMware's new vSphere 4.1 offers increased scalability in terms of network traffic, storage traffic, and the number of virtual machines it can manage, with all this increased functionality making it easier for customers to build private computing clouds, said Tim Stephan, senior director of product marketing for the company.

VSphere is VMware's platform for pooling compute, storage, and networking resources as a first step in building a public or private cloud infrastructure using the company's virtualization platform.

The increase in scalability of vSphere 4.1 is aimed at making sure the virtualization technology will not hinder customers' adoption of cloud computing, Stephan said.

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"VSphere 4.1 will support anything anyone wants to throw at it," he said. "We never want the virtualization technology from VMware to be the bottleneck. We're pushing this so no application will feel bound by the virtualization."

To enable the scalability needed to meet that goal, VMware is making a number of changes with vSphere 4.1.

The virtualization platform can now manage up to 15,000 virtual machines, or about three times the maximum number of virtual machines in the prior version, Stephan said.

VMware is also adding new memory compression technology, which allocates more virtual machines per given amount of memory in order to reduce the cost per virtual machine while increasing performance, he said.

Two other new features of vSphere 4.1 give customers dynamic control of the amount of storage and networking resources are allocated to virtual machines. This includes storage I/O controls, which allow customers to specify particular virtual machines as "VIPs" in order to give them priority access to storage resources, and network I/O controls, which lets customer-specified virtual machines access to priority network flows, he said.

VMware is also decreasing the amount of time needed to migrate a virtual machine from one physical host to another via the company's VMotion feature by a factor of five and quadrupling the number of concurrent virtual machine migrations to eight, Stephan said.

"Now, if there is a resource contention, customers' virtual machines can migrate very quickly," he said. "This is great for the cloud, where resources are on separate networks and servers but aggregated together."

Next: The Importance Of Virtualization Scalability

This kind of scalability is important as customers start getting serious about virtualizing their data centers in preparation for their step up into cloud computing, said Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and longtime VMware partner.

Norbie estimated that only 30 percent to 40 percent of customer data centers have been virtualized because of the limits to existing technology. "People are working hard to get the rest virtualized," he said. "But for many customers, VMotion is just not fast enough, or vSphere doesn't offer the right scalability."

Anyone serious about virtualization is memory-constrained in some way or has issues with how to handle storage I/O, Norbie said.

"If you can scale memory without buying more memory, that's a bonus for customers," he said. "However, it will be interesting to see how technologies like memory compression this might impact performance. Nothing is free. We'll need to see if it's worth the change. I think it will be."

VMware is also planning to implement a per-virtual machine pricing for many of its vCenter management products, Stephan said.

The per-VM pricing will be added to such products as the vCenter CapacityIQ capacity monitoring and management tool, vCenter Sight Recover Manager tool for automating disaster recover and business continuity, vCenter AppSpeed tool for application performance service level agreements, and vCenter Chargeback tool for cost measurement and analysis, Stephan said.

Next: Understanding The Impact Of VMware Pricing Changes

Currently, VMware charges for such tools on a per-instance basis regardless of the number of virtual machines to which the tools are applied. Under the new pricing system, customers will only pay for those virtual machines which access those tools.

"For example, with Site Recovery Manager, customers can choose which virtual machines to protect, and not pay for those which are not protected," Stephan said, adding that the cost per VM will be announced later this year, but that for customers it should be the same on a per-VM basis as customers currently pay.

The change in pricing represents a new level of maturity for VMware, Norbie said. "This could be good, because it might be cheaper on a per-VM basis," he said. "But it also moves away from a global management perspective, because it could mean less allocation of resources on a global basis. But it is very infantile to charge on a per-instance basis, while charging on a per-VM basis is more flexible."

The change in how the technology is priced makes sense as the underlying server technology continues to get more powerful, said Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization practices at INX, a Houston-based solution provider and VMware partner.

As CPUs become more powerful, the number of VMs each can support increases, and so it makes sense from VMware's perspective to charge on a per-VM basis, Kaplan said.

Customers might end up paying more for licensing that under the existing system, Kaplan said. "But there's so much money to be made by implementing virtualization, a small increase is not a big deal," he said.