First look: VMware vSphere 4.1 keeps the virtualization crown

With scalability improvements, network and storage I/O control, and countless other enhancements, VMware continues to redefine the possibilities for server virtualization

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Little has changed in the vSphere client since the last revision, although error reporting seems better than in earlier incarnations. Previous error reporting was extremely opaque, which was aggravating at best when dealing with problems within the infrastructure. The error reports in vSphere 4.1 provide more data, which should assist in troubleshooting.

I set up a cluster with Enhanced vMotion Compatibility, and vMotions across the disparate CPUs in the lab servers worked well. vMotions are definitely faster in vSphere 4.1, but not amazingly so. Rough estimates might be a 25 or 30 percent uptake in some situations, but the speed of any vMotion is highly dependent on the host network I/O speeds, as well as storage speeds if a storage vMotion is attempted, and the load on the virtual machine itself.

I did run into a few errors related to HA configuration, which shouldn't come as a big surprise. HA can be relatively cranky to operate on occasion.

I had time to work with the storage and network I/O control features and found them simple enough. These features may not be necessary for typical midsize implementations, but for larger and more I/O-intensive workloads, they will make a significant difference in the day-to-day functioning of the overall environment. The ability to prioritize storage access in times of high contention opens many doors that were previously closed.

The network I/O controls will appeal to a broader audience. Although there are ways of achieving this goal external to the hypervisor, adding this capability within the scope of the virtual machine reduces cost and complexity.

Movin' on up
It's clear that VMware is continuing to push the boundaries in terms of what's possible in the world of server virtualization. The consistent progress shown by each version of VMware's flagship product simply hardens the cement of an already solid foundation. There are still oddities present in various aspects of the solution, but they do not generally impact the bread-and-butter hypervisor functionality; vSphere is as stable as an x86 hypervisor gets these days.

The main concerns with vSphere have historically been the high licensing cost and the squirrelly error reporting. The latter seems to be better in this revision, but it's still not where it should be. As for licensing costs, there's some relief for small businesses, if not for large ones. VMware has lowered the price of the Essentials edition, and added vMotion to the Essentials Plus and Standard editions. 

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