VMware’s version 6 virtual blast

With a considerable amount of fanfare, VMware announced the latest iteration of its popular virtualization platform this past week. As part of the launch, the company claimed a goodly number of “industry firsts” – nine to be precise – as well as a dizzying array of new features and product enhancements – 650 in vSphere alone – to its compute, storage and networking products. But how do these multiple updates to the vSphere OS, to Virtual SAN, NSX and vCloud Air map to the challenges now faced by businesses and the IT administrators that serve them? A little deconstruction that links the new with the need may help answer this question.

Pat Gelsinger, CEO, VMware, Inc.
Pat Gelsinger, CEO, VMware, Inc.

At the “One cloud: any application” launch, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger described the current business climate as one that is “liquid,” characterized by disruption, new business models and IT-enabled innovation. For businesses to survive and thrive in this “liquid world,” he argued, they need to have a correspondingly fluid IT infrastructure that can support cloud and mobility, the technologies that VMware (and others) have identified as key to unleashing new forces of productivity and organizational agility. In the VMware schema, liquid IT infrastructure is one that is ‘software defined’ and can handle the massive waves of data that now serve as a critical foundation for strategic decision support and which operate as an important input to business process in many businesses. But how is VMware helping to build IT liquidity and to what end?

Addressing new application scale

Workforce mobility, and the potential to leverage new sources of data like social and sensors for new insight are creating opportunity for the business but putting pressure on IT, as Big Data applications increase demand for agile infrastructure that can handle volumes and varieties of data traffic. According to IBM, approximately 2.7 Zettabytes of data exist in the digital universe today, and by 2020, 35 Zettabytes will be generated on an annual basis (with an 80% increase in unstructured data) – numbers that reinforce recognized need for improved operating infrastructures.

To help, VMware has introduced new capabilities in vSphere 6 targeted at the scale out of virtualization infrastructure. According to the company, increased scalability and configuration maximums in the updated virtualization OS support 2x the number of hosts per cluster (64 vs. 32 in previous versions), 2x the number of virtual machines per cluster (8000 vs. 4000 before), 1.5x the number of CPUs (480 vs. 320 before) and 3x the memory (12TB RAM vs. 4TB RAM). Additional updates include Big Data extensions aimed at easing management provisioning and configuration across Hadoop clusters, and the ability to virtualize new scale up applications such as SAP HANA’s in-memory databases, producing, VMware claims, a 9 fold improvement in load time as compared with non-virtualized workloads. vSphere 6 also provides a virtualization platform for business-critical applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, and SAP ERP – VMware’s goal being to support both traditional and emerging applications.

Delivering storage growth

VMware calls its integration of hypervisor and storage solutions “software-defined storage,” and has introduced scalability and performance enhancements to Virtual SAN 6 that parallel vSphere 6 updates. According to the company, Virtual SAN 6 effectively doubles storage scalability and improves performance by a factor of four and a half. Specific features in the new release include:

  • A new two-tier all-flash architecture that uses flash devices for both caching and data persistence, resulting in a four-times increase in input/output throughput per node (compared to VMware Virtual SAN 5.5) with sub-millisecond latency,
  • Maximum throughput of seven million IOPS/64-node VMware Virtual SAN cluster,
  • Increased scale to 64 nodes/cluster, supporting up to 6,400 virtual machines per cluster and more than eight petabytes of storage from each cluster,
  • New snapshot capability that increases snapshot depth to 32 per virtual machine,
  • New rack-awareness that can detect virtual machine objects across server racks to improve application availability in case of rack failure, and
  • Expanded support for direct-attached JBODs to allow scale of Virtual SAN 6 clusters in server blade environments.

To support additional storage integration, VMware has also announced vSphere Virtual Volumes, a set of storage APIs that enable integration between storage and vSphere at the individual virtual machine level. Virtual Volumes makes external arrays natively aware of virtual machines, abstracting external storage to enable “VM-aware Storage Policy-Based Management” across a range of third-party systems, for common control plane management and automation across dynamic storage and storage tiers.

According to VMware, policy-based management, which focuses on the application as opposed to the storage device, combined with deep integration into the VMware stack and elastic scalability offer customers the potential for rapid application provisioning, a capability that is increasingly important to the digital enterprise.

Simplifying deployment and management

Data centre complexity is a challenge that operators wrestle with on a daily basis, which is likely to increase with growing digitization of business processes. To support IT, VMware has introduced new Instant Clone technology that it claims speeds deployment of VMs by up to 10 times, that works with Cross-vCenter Clone and Migration to enable single action copying or moving of VMs between hosts on different vCenter servers. In addition, new capabilities, including predictive analytics and automated recommendation and remediation, have been added to vSphere’s platform and management solution, Operations Management 6. By helping customers proactively identify and remediate emerging performance or configuration issues – and reclaim compute, memory and storage resources associated with over-provisioned vms – VMware is working to reduce maintenance while improving infrastructure health. A central repository, or vSphere Content Library for VM templates, ISO images and scripts that facilitates content storing, sharing, and management, and a more responsive, intuitive user interface on the VMware Web Client have also been introduced to improve operators’ ability to work with VMware tools.

At the cloud level, VMware announced integration of vSphere 6 with the latest releases of its cloud management solutions, VMware vRealize Automation 6.2 and VMware vRealize Operations 6, to provide the software-defined data centre architecture to customer’s private clouds. The VMware vRealize Business 6 Standard will also provide showback/chargeback and budgeting capabilities to deliver better management of private cloud capacity based on departmental or customer usage in the case of the service provider.

Handling hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud has become the dominant IT delivery model in most organizations, a trend that VMware has acknowledged in the creation several years back of its own public cloud service, vCloud Air, and in efforts to integrate this with VMware’s private cloud offerings announced earlier this year, This past week, the company also unveiled a technology preview of vCloud Air hybrid networking services – a gateway appliance that enables a single, secure network domain that can bridge VMware’s public cloud and vSphere private clouds. Based on VMware’s NSX network virtualization platform, a software defined approach to networking and security for L2 – L7, the new vCloud Air hybrid networking services will allow customers to maintain hundreds of virtual networks spanning private and vCloud Air clouds over a single WAN connection, and to share security policies and network isolation for specific applications.

Supporting global networks resiliency

Distributed computing in service provider or other enterprise organizations with global operations – or in applications such as DR requiring low latency data mirror – presents unique physical challenges to the virtual world. To ensure the optimal performance of virtualization technologies, VMware has introduced enhancements to its vSphere vMotion to enable the live migration of workloads that span more boundaries, and go farther. New this past week is Long-Distance vMotion, which VMware claims will enable zero downtime live migration of workloads over long distances such as New York to London.

Leveraging open source technologies

In a nod to customer demand for open source solutions that can offer a flexible and cost competitive alternative to vendor lock in, VMware has worked for several years with a variety of OpenStack communities, and is building open cloud capabilities through activities such as the acquisition of professional services firm MomentumSI, which was incorporated into the VMware fold late last year. In last week’s slew of announcements, the company introduced VMware Integrated OpenStack, an OpenStack distribution that will provide developers with open APIs to access VMware infrastructure, in order to reinforce the company’s support of open frameworks for building and managing cloud. All components of the distribution, including the open source OpenStack code, have been packaged and tested by VMware and will be delivered free of charge to vSphere customers. Fully integrated with VMware’s cloud management platform ( which means operators can leverage their own VMware expertise), this distribution, the company believes, will allow even those IT shops with little or no OpenStack or Linux experience to build an OpenStack cloud in minutes. For customers requiring more support, the company is also announcing professional services that encompass software development best practices in DevOps and OpenStack implementation.

VMware’s unified platform also offers advanced virtualization support for container-based distributed application technologies, through integration, for example, with Kubernetes, Google’s open-source container orchestration project, designed to help customers achieve fast and flexible development, deployment and consumption of business critical and cloud-native applications across a hybrid cloud.

VMware’s software-centric view of the data centre benefits from the continuous innovation that is an easier proposition in the software than in the hardware world, an attribute that is reflected in the multiple updates encompassed in VMware’s v 6 launch. Another software characteristic is the ability to integrate across various platforms, a goal that VMware is looking to achieve with its new “one platform,” which the company believes will serve to unify cloud, storage and networking capabilities across hybrid cloud environments that increasingly are the norm. Will the company be able to successfully deliver not only the message, but also the medium to customers? Can sheer numbers of software-based updates create the kind of momentum needed to transform virtual compute, storage and networks to the ubiquitous cloud OS that VMware describes? More open, more scale and capacity, more ease in deployment and management, and the better workload migration outlined in this latest spate of announcements certainly help. But let us not forget market share for VMware’s flagship virtualization suite (declined from 64% in 2008 to 56% in 2013) that is strong but currently under siege from competitors, including Microsoft, Citrix, Oracle and Red Hat, which could encourage broader adoption of the VMware’s entire platform approach – depending on your glass half full or empty perspective.



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