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VMware vSphere gets more gadgets

Freebie console for freebie hypervisor

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Server virtualization juggernaut VMware kicks off its VMworld fest in San Francisco today by rounding out its vCenter management tools for the new vSphere 4.0 stack, which wraps around the new ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor.

The company is also launching a free Web-based, hosted management tool that will allow companies that use VMware's freebie ESXi hypervisor to deploy and manage virtual machines atop this freebie code rather than have to pay for vCenter management tools.

Two years ago, when VMware launched the embedded version of its bare-metal ESX Server hypervisor, dubbed ESX Server 3i, this announcement was all about gutting the management console out of the hypverisor so the code could fit on a flash memory stick. This let server partners like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and IBM sell a hypervisor for maybe $200, like they would a tiny disk drive.

However, this was when Microsoft was still planning to charge for its Hyper-V hypervisor for Windows and when XenSource and then Citrix Systems continued to charge for their XenEnterprise commercial variant of the open source Xen hypervisor. But when Microsoft changed its mind back and forth a few times and eventually decided to give Hyper-V away - and the entry-level XenServer was also given away for free - the new top brass at VMware (after the founders Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum were forced out of the company by owner EMC) under former Microsoftie Paul Maritz decided they had to compete on price and give away the ESXi hypervisor for free too.

The only problem with free, of course, is that it is often only worth a little bit more than what you pay for it - and sometimes less.

In the case of ESXi, the code was free, but you have to pay a couple hundred bucks per instance if you want tech support and software patches. And more importantly, VMware didn't offer the sophisticated management tools embodied in vCenter and the Virtual Infrastructure 3 and now the vSphere 4.0 stacks. If anything, the kinds of people who are using freebie tools need more help when it comes to managing the software than those who are paying for the heavy-duty code.

To that end, VMware is launching a service called VMware Go, which is used explicitly to manage the embedded hypervisors ESX Server 3i, ESXi 3.5, and now ESXi 4.0. The Web-based tool is not something you can download, but rather a service you log into that then runs around your network, sniffing out ESXi instances if you have them. It also lets you deploy new ESXi instances and monitor them.

The VMware Go service was created by VMware to chase small and medium businesses - you know, the cheapskates who are not going to pay a lot for that hypervisor - but it's actually being hosted by Shavlik Technologies, a VMware partner that sells online patch and configuration management tools.

According to Melinda Wilken, senior director of marketing at VMware, about three-quarters of the companies that download the freebie ESXi hypervisor are SMBs, which not only have tight budgets but which tend to have IT generalists and not a lot of expertise in one specific facet of technology. Having attracted such shops to VMware virtualization products, the company can ill afford to have them be frustrated by a lack of management tools and start thinking about using XenServer or Hyper-V instead. Hence, the VMware Go service, which blunts the attack from these two - not to mention the attack that will ratchet up from Red Hat later this year with its Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor and tools and the attack that Oracle is preparing with a converged Xen-Virtual Iron product.

VMware Go is in beta today. You can sign up for it here. VMware's announcement says that Go will be available as a free service beginning in 2010, but Wilken said that the product would be generally available in the fourth quarter of this year. Go figure.

The paying customers at VMware using its vCenter management tool also get some new goodies today, including two features called CapacityIQ and ConfigControl.

When vSphere 4.0 was announced back in April, not all of its management bits were ready for shipping a month later when the product went on sale. In July, vCenter was updated with a performance monitoring and service-level reporting capability for applications running inside of VMs, called AppSpeed.

Another feature, called vCenter Chargeback, keeps track of who is using VM resources by individual, department, division, or company and allows for IT managers to start doing chargeback to those using resources. Also in July, VMware merged its Lab Manager VM jukeboxing software with its Stage Manager VM lifecycle management tool for development and test environments and chopped the price on the combined project, which is now called vCenter Lab Manager 4.

The vCenter CapacityIQ and ConfigControl features are only being previewed now. CapacityIQ, which will be available in the fourth quarter, is an automatic rightsizing tool for VMs that helps system administrators get over their bad habits of overprovisioning virtual server capacity, just as they rightfully had to do when they were sizing physical servers and storage arrays. CapacityIQ watches the VMs that administrators set up and sees how they use processor, memory, storage, and I/O capacity as their workloads are running.

After it does this for a while, it recommends skinnier VM configurations where appropriate. The tool can also look at trend data and forecast when certain machines or VMs will run out of gas, and it can do "what if" analysis to predict what will happen on a network of servers if raw server capacity is plugged in and made available to the VMs through the Distributed Resource Manager (DRS) offered by VMware, which does load balancing of VMs across the network. CapacityIQ could also predict the effect of adding a new set of applications to the virtual infrastructure as things shuffle and reshuffle based on policies set in DRS.

The ConfigControl feature of vCenter, which will ship sometime in the first half of 2010, is being demoed this week at VMworld, is used to keep track of setup of all the elements in the virtual infrastructure under control of ESX Server, including all of the dependencies between the various physical and virtual infrastructure. To build this tool, VMware has OEMed a dynamic discovery program from Hewlett-Packard, and then has added assessment tools to figure out if the virtual infrastructure is in compliance with security and configuration policies set by the IT department. Basically, it is a virtual boss looking over the shoulder of system admins.

Pricing for vCenter CapacityIQ and ConfigControl will be announced when they are generally available. ®

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