First look: Driving VMware vSphere 5.1

VMware's new, Flash-based Web management GUI is easy to like, but it comes with a few gotchas

Today marks the official release of VMware's vSphere 5.1, and despite the point release, there's much more to this version than minor updates and bug fixes. In fact, this is a release that would have been comfortable wearing the number 6.

There's a lot going on in 5.1, and I've had only a few days to play with it in the lab. Still, my overall impression out of the gate is positive, with a few qualifications.

[ Also on InfoWorld: VMware vSphere 5.1 and the end of traditional networking | What's key in VMware's new vSphere, vCenter, and vCloud | Get the latest practical info and news with Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog and InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

The first major change is the client. While the existing Windows-based client is still present, VMware has marked the 5.1 release as the point where the transition to the Web client begins, with a road map toward phasing out the fat client at some point in the near future.

The Web client is a Flash-based interface delivered to a browser, and it has a look and feel that's completely different from the Windows client. It definitely takes some getting used to, as the fat client has long been the management portal into vSphere.

On the left is the object navigator, where you'll find objects relevant to the current focus, such as data centers, clusters, hosts, and virtual machines in the Hosts and Clusters view, and data stores in the Datastores and Datastore Clusters view. In the middle is the current activity focus that will display whatever selection has been made on the left, such as viewing a host summary or a VM configuration tab. On the right is a sidebar containing recent tasks, current tasks, and alarms.

Selecting a host on the left brings up several tabs that can display a host summary, performance information, settings, and so forth. These are navigated by tabs at the top of the main display. There's also a Related Objects tab that displays other elements related to the host, such as virtual machines, data stores, and networks. Each object on the right will have a Related Objects tab, which makes it easy to jump from one view to another within the same focus.

Also handy are the icons at the top of the left panel. These are shortcuts to the four main management views for vSphere: Hosts and Clusters, Virtual Machines and Templates, Datastores and Datastore Clusters, and Networks. These function like the drop lists at the top of the Windows client.

I like the Web interface, but there are a few caveats. It's not as fast or responsive as the fat client, and it has update lags that can interfere with normal operation. For instance, if someone adds a VM with the Windows client, the Web client will not necessarily reflect that additional VM unless the reload icon is clicked at the top of the app. Other navigation tasks may cause a refresh that will suddenly display the change, but a dormant client will not until it's manually refreshed, which can get admins in trouble when multiple people are working on the same vCenter instance.

The view of the networking configuration for a single host in the vSphere Web client, showing that we have a distributed switch configured on the host.
The view of the networking configuration for a single host in the vSphere Web client, showing that we have a distributed switch configured on the host.
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