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VMware unmasks next-gen hypervisor

Cloud eats ESX 4.0

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vNetwork

The vNetwork part of the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor that everyone has been chattering about puts a virtual network switch inside of a virtual machine and lets VMs running operating systems and applications talk to this virtual switch instead of real ones. VMware has created its own virtual switch, which is included with the vSphere package, but the company has also worked with networking giant Cisco Systems to put that company's IOS switch operating system in an ESX Server wrapper and let it manage the networking for VMs.

The beauty of this is that Cisco network managers who are dealing with a Nexus 1000V virtual switch use the exact same tools as they would use to manage real Cisco routers and switches. Other switch vendors have not come forward to slide their switches into VMs and become part of the vNetwork stack, but they will be encouraged to do so - not just by VMware, but by their customers.

On the storage front, ESX Server's vStorage features include VM direct path I/O, which allows a VM to circumvent a hypervisor and to directly bind to and access an I/O device (such as a disk controller or a network card) and run at native speeds. Think of it as I/O paravirtualization, Balkansky says. Anyway, this not only can boost performance, it allows for devices that are not supported in ESX Server directly to be linked to VMs. However, once you do this VM direct path I/O, you sacrifice a lot of the virtualness of the VM and it is no longer mobile.

The existing ESX Server 3.X hypervisor allowed a kind of thin provisioning for main memory for virtual machines, allowing up to twice as much main memory as existed in the system to be allocated to VMs since most VMs don't use all the memory they want - and this is so because the operating systems they support do not.

With ESX Server 4.0, the disk side of the house is getting thin provisioning, which allows you to give a virtual machine, say, 2 GB of virtual storage to make an operating system happy, but based on the disk space it actually needs, maybe it only really has 20 per cent of that. As the VM needs more disk space for data, it gets pulled from its 2 GB allotment.

With the code optimizations in ESX Server 4.0, the thin provisioning of memory and disk, improvements in bandwidth for network and disk, and support for more cores in the hypervisor, Balkansky says that VMware can get 30 per cent more physical servers onto a physical machine. And thanks to the distributed power management features (which were already in ESX Server 3.5), the VMotion teleporting features can be used to power servers up and down as needed, consolidating as many VMs onto as few physical servers as possible, yielding a 20 per cent reduction in power and cooling costs. The thin provisioning feature of ESX Server can cut storage costs in half as well.

With ESX Server 3.X, VMware had three different Virtual Infrastructure 3 bundles - Foundation, Standard, and Enterprise. Four of the six vSphere bundles overlap these three VI3 bundles in features and prices, and then a lower cost option is tossed in and so is a higher-priced option.

vSphere Essentials includes the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its patch manager, management agents for VMs and a management server. It costs $995 for a license that spans three physical two-socket servers, or a low of $166 per socket. The Essentials Plus Bundle, which overlaps with the old Foundation bundle with ESX Server 3.5 in terms of features, adds high availability and data protection features for those three servers, and costs $2,995. If you are not catching it, you there is no such thing as buying for one or two servers for these two Essentials packages, even though they are aimed at SMBs.

Moving on up into the data center, you have vSphere Standard, which rolls up the hypervisor (either ESX Server 4.0 or the embedded ESXi 4.0), thin provisioning, high availability, and the management agents for the hypervisor and VMs for $795 per processor socket. vSphere Advanced adds VMotion live migration, network security zoning (vSecurity), data protection, and continuous availability (VMware Fault Tolerance) for $2,245 per processor socket.

vSphere Enterprise adds distributed resource allocation, power management, and storage live migration, and it costs $2,875 per socket. These are essentially the same prices as VMware was charging for the VI3 stacks. vSphere Enterprise Plus adds the distributed software switch capabilities and host configuration controls and raises the price to $3,495 per socket.

VMware is offering upgrades from VI3 Standard to vSphere Advanced for $745 per socket and from VI3 Enterprise to vSphere Enterprise Plus for $295 per socket.

While the vSphere software is being announced today, the ship date has not been set yet. But VMware is telling customers that ESX Server 4.0 and ESXi 4.0 should be ready by the end of the quarter. ®

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