Review: VMware vSphere 5.5 adds speed and usability
VMware's latest vSphere with Operations Management bundle has must-have improvements for both large and small shops
I also noted the overhaul to vCenter SSO. In vSphere 5.5, single sign-on resolves a number of issues that plagued many customers, especially during the upgrade process. VMware has listened to the gripes and, thankfully, completely redesigned the SSO architecture, making SSO a multimaster model, enabling automatic replication, making SSO site-aware, and getting rid of the SSO database.
New virtual hardware, version 10, in vSphere 5.5 provides support for a virtual machine latency value (reducing virtualization overhead for low-latency applications), expanded vGPU support, support for VMDKs as large as 62TB, among other enhancements. (The complete list of new vSphere 5.5 features is located at VMware's website.)
While these are important improvements, they aren't completely new or unexpected. However, two all-new vSphere 5.5 features that, honestly, I didn't see coming are App HA and the vSphere Flash Read Cache.
By utilizing VMware's vFabric Hyperic virtual appliance and application-aware agents in your critical virtual machines, App HA extends the power of vSphere HA to your important applications, either restarting the application service or rebooting the VM when things go wrong.
At the outset, App HA supports only SQL Server, SharePoint, IIS, the Apache Web server, and vFabric Hyperic itself. Also, while App HA is certainly innovative, it is still a "1.0" version that is a challenge to get up and running. I look forward to future editions that are more integrated with vCenter Server.
Built into the vSphere hypervisor, the vSphere Flash Read Cache is a new vSphere storage tier that allows you to boost storage performance by taking advantage of read caching in direct-attached flash devices. The vSphere Flash Read Cache allows you to manage caching on a per-VM basis without the need for agents and with full vMotion consistency, preserving storage acceleration during and after a VM migration.
One new and interesting VMware offering that is not included in vSphere is the Virtual SAN, aka VSAN, which allows you to create a shared storage cluster from the local storage in three to eight vSphere hosts. Currently a beta product, VSAN will likely be sold separately, but I hope there will be a free, limited-capacity edition. VSAN is technically part of the vSphere 5.5 hypervisor that is shipping now. It's worth checking out.
Changes in the works
Over the last few years, vSphere has become a larger and more complex solution, and it is currently in the middle a few different changes. Three of the most noteworthy are the enhancement of the vCenter Server Appliance, the retirement of the vSphere Client for Windows, and the integration of vCloud Director and vCloud Automation Center.
To address the last of these first: VMware has publicly stated that, over time, vCloud Director will be eliminated and certain features will go "down" into vCenter while others will go "up" into vCloud Automation Center. Thus, with the next release of vSphere, I expect to see some nice new functionality available in vCenter Server and through the vSphere Web Client.
In order to offer a centralized management solution that requires no Windows Server license, VMware created the vCenter Server Appliance -- a Linux-based virtual appliance that contains a local database, a Web server, and the vCenter services (as well as other VMware-oriented services). VMware has improved the database in the vCenter Server Appliance, now offering a local vPostgres database, integrated SSO server, integrated vSphere Web Client Server, and more.