Preview: VMware Infrastructure 3 update builds on the base
VI3 with ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 beefs up server virtualization management with automated patching, virtual disk migration, planning and migration wizardry, and distributed power management; embedded ESX shows purple in the late betaFollow @pvenezia
Backfield in motion
Called Storage VMotion, live migration of virtual hard disks is another eagerly anticipated new feature. The original VMotion is used to migrate VMs from one ESX host to another, provided that each ESX host shares access to the same central storage volume on an NFS, iSCSI, or Fibre Channel device. With Storage VMotion, running VMs can be migrated between data stores as well as ESX hosts. This opens up several new backup and load-balancing scenarios as well as providing a means to ensure suitable VM performance across multiple data stores.
The addition of Capacity Planner and Converter to VirtualCenter 2.5, in the form of the wizard-driven Guided Consolidation tool, is also quite notable. Capacity Planner, which has been something of a hidden product from VMware, is now moving to the forefront. With Guided Consolidation, VirtualCenter can be used to monitor any number of physical servers for a period of time, then produce reports on how well they will integrate into the virtual infrastructure. Once those decisions have been made, the P2V migration can be managed directly from VirtualCenter using VMware's converters. This combination is sure to be a hit with shops that are just starting their virtualization implementations, but may also hurt several third-party P2V companies such as Leostream and PlateSpin. Again, in the beta code, these tools were functional, but didn't appear to be fully realized yet.
Also new is Distributed Power Management, which puts a green twist on automated load balancing. Working in concert with Distributed Resource Scheduler, this can be used to further reduce power and cooling costs in certain infrastructures. For instance, in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure scenario, if desktop VMs typically become dormant after business hours, it would be possible to shut down many of those VMs, migrate others to ESX hosts with low utilization, and then power down the ESX hosts that won't be needed until load ramps back up in the morning.
Color my hypervisor
One addition to the core platform is coming in the wake of the VI3 update, at a date VMware has not yet announced. Rather confusingly named V3i, or VMware ESX Server 3i, this is the embedded version of ESX Server, designed to be run from a USB flash drive or a CompactFlash card. Many server manufacturers have been integrating internal USB headers or CompactFlash slots in their servers for purposes just like this. V3i removes the need for ESX hosts to have local disks, further hardening them against hardware failure. However, make no mistake – V3i is nothing like the current ESX server. It's completely new and removes the ability for any direct management of ESX hosts. There's no Linux base in V3i, so it's not possible to SSH into a V3i host or apply any third-party packages. This may make it a nonstarter with some advanced VMware shops, but for those running more vanilla setups, V3i might be the way to go. In order to alleviate concerns regarding direct host management and scripting, VMware is releasing a kind of CLI for V3i hosts. Basically a Perl wrapper around direct API calls to the hosts, it serves the same purpose as a true CLI, but it's not running on the host itself.
In my tests of the beta code, V3i seemed to be the most fragile component. If VMware aims to release V3i shortly after yesterday's launch, then it definitely has some work to do in the interim. I had several problems managing and using V3i hosts on supported hardware such as the Dell PowerEdge 2950. VMware's equivalent of the Windows Blue Screen of Death is a Purple Screen of Death, and I saw that many times while testing the beta.