Virtualization shoot-out: VMware vSphere

The world's leading server virtualization platform is still tops in performance, scalability, and advanced features

It should come as no surprise that VMware entered the test lab with the most feature-rich and problem-free solution of the four vendors in this virtualization roundup. After all, this is a market that VMware created and has dominated for years. VMware vSphere 4.1 is the most advanced server virtualization platform on the planet, and it's priced accordingly. However, when you dig into those numbers, balanced against the features and VM densities per physical host, vSphere might not be as pricey as you think.

From available features to ease of installation to performance, VMware is either ahead, well ahead, or at least on par with the competition. Depending on the skills available in your shop, you may find that you can wring sufficient functionality out of the Citrix, Red Hat, or Microsoft solution at lower cost in the long run. Nevertheless, if the goal is to bring the greatest possible consolidation, scalability, or availability to your virtual server farm, VMware is undoubtedly your best choice.

VMware vSphere installation
Installing vSphere was the work of just a few minutes. We mapped an ISO to the blades through Dell iDRAC's virtual media feature and fired it up; about 10 minutes later, a new VMware ESXi server was born. There's the small matter of configuring passwords and possibly management network addresses, but otherwise the host is ready to go.

The next step is to use the vSphere client to log into the single host and configure all the network, storage, and associated parameters. This too is a simple process, requiring only that VLAN IDs be entered when defining the network to use, adding a VMkernel interface for the iSCSI storage, and defining a network to be used for VMotion VM migrations.

All told, the networking setup took about five minutes. After that, we configured the iSCSI storage -- a significantly more fluid process in ESXi 4.1 than previous ESX versions. The host quickly discovered the available LUNs on the Dell EqualLogic array and correctly enabled VMware's storage integration hooks to support copy and zero off-loading, block-level locking, and several other storage tweaks that can dramatically improve storage performance.

At this point, an odd problem cropped up. We presented a 1.5TB LUN that had been formatted as NTFS for the Microsoft Hyper-V tests to the ESXi server along with several other LUNs. Clearly flummoxed, the ESXi box paused for nearly five minutes, trying to determine the unsupported file system but getting nowhere. This wasn't a huge problem, but presenting this LUN to the ESXi server caused significant delays in the boot process later on. Deleting and re-creating the LUN functioned as expected, with the ESXi server finding and formatting it as VMFS.

Test Center Scorecard
  25% 20% 20% 20% 15%  
VMware vSphere 4.1 9 9 9 9 9



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