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VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus: An El Reg deep dive

Trevor Pott feels the big business end of virtual machine giant

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Security for virtualized datacentres

Is vSphere 5.1 worth upgrading to?

If VMware holds true to form, there will be another new version of VMware launched at VMworld in August. There is intense pressure from Microsoft's "we finally don't suck" release of System Center 2012 SP1 at the high end combined with "by the way, it does everything (from PowerShell) and it's free" Hyper-V Server at the low end.

I can't see 2013 ending without a major version release from VMware. If VMware doesn't do a big update this year they are in for a world of hurt. You know this, I know this; we have to assume the brass hats at VMware know this. So why not hold off until August and get the shiny new thing?

If you have vSphere 5.0, then this is the correct path for you. The biggest upgrade 5.1 offered over 5.0 was banishment of the accursed vTax. If you already bought in to 5.0, you've already paid it, if it were to affect you. The rest of the feature upgrades are incremental; don't waste your political capital fighting the upgrade battle today. Save it for Q4 and buy the next version of the vSuite (after someone else has walked through the minefield and found all the bugs for you).

If, however, you have 4.0 or 4.1, there are good arguments to be made for jumping on 5.1 now. The biggest being the "known quantity" factor. 5.0 and 5.1 didn't differ overmuch, so you have one and a half years of companies marching resolutely through the minefield ahead of you. The feature bump is a nice step up and if you want to play with Windows 8 or Server 2012 at all, you need to take the plunge.

If you are using ESX 3 or 3.5, then you are so far behind at this point that the game changes yet again. There are good arguments for upgrading now, but if you're that far behind then you are obviously part of an organisation that doesn't upgrade all that often.

I've done an upgrade from 3.5 to 5.1, and it's almost as much trouble as moving to Hyper-V would be. You can follow an upgrade route, but given the feature delta, why would you? You'll end up completely redesigning your infrastructure to take advantage of the new features anyways. This gives you some negotiating leverage. Even if you can't get VMware to drop the sticker price with your Microsoft broadsword of +1 to defection, try to at least get them to throw in some training. The features in 5.1 are awesome and you'll want to be trained up to take advantage of them.

If you are already using a competing product, does it make sense to go VMware? That's territory I really can't help you with. The economics of that have a lot more to do with the level of your extant investment and exactly how much of a break on licensing VMware is willing to give in order to get you to enter their ecosystem. All I can say is that right now the political and economic climate is such that there's never been a better time to try.

Conclusion

vSphere 5.1 is an evolutionary step over 5.0, not a revolutionary one. It is, however, something of a marvel of technology. Put all the bits together and you have an x86 mainframe on commodity hardware with added buzzwords and a way lower price tag. We've come a long way in ten years. The hypervisor itself is a commodity. With Microsoft finally catching up – and Openstack/Cloudstack not far behind – the basic management tools are a year or two away from that level as well.

Today, VMware's value proposition is not so much the raw technology of their products, but how neatly they are stitching it together. This is a battle being fought head-to-head with the king of integration: Microsoft itself. Right now, VMware have the upper hand. For VMware to survive, they are going to have to keep pushing the boundaries of automation, convenience and – ultimately – self-cannibalization. If they don't, Microsoft will gladly do it for them.

None of us have the remotest clue how this battle is going to shake out in the long run. What is or is not released at VMworld 2013 (and the quality of that product) will determine the datacenter pecking order for the rest of this decade. We can't know how that will play out and it is pointless to let such hypotheticals stall our decision making process.

What is on the table today is good. It is time tested and battle-hardened. It has a clearly definable value that even the densest of pointy haired bosses should be able to grasp. For all my trials and tribulations with this software, months of dedicated effort on my part have seen me unable to break vSphere 5.1 in any meaningful way. I'm willing to bet my company on it. What about you? ®

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