VMware leaps ahead with Infrastructure 3

Server virtualization market leader VMware will ship its next wave of software in two weeks. It may take customers some time before they digest these new features.

With the imminent release of the latest version of its software, most experts agree that VMware Inc. is miles ahead of its competitors in terms of features and functions.

But with today's release of VMware Infrastructure 3, the company is also ahead of what the average IT shop is currently capable of providing. The technology, which should be available in about two weeks, is a suite of software that adds new levels of automation, resource management and capacity planning for servers and storage.

The main new features are VMFS, which is a distributed file system; Distributed Resource Scheduler, which can redistribute virtual machines among the physical servers; High Availability, which provides application availability independent of the operating system; and Consolidated Backup, which is centralized backup for virtual machines.

An enterprise version of VMware Infrastructure 3, which includes all of the new technologies plus ESX Server, sells for $5,750 for two processors.

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The resource management features, in particular, will remove the common misconception that virtualization has an impact on performance, said Brian Byun, vice president of products and alliances at VMware. The system's resource management features let customers dictate the priorities of a workload.

The features are all solid starts, said Gordon Haff, a principal at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. "But users today don't know how to establish priorities for applications," he said. "That's going to take a long time."

With SMP servers, customers used to schedule jobs and processor priorities. Today the operating systems do that for the vast number of workloads -- but that took time. Building a virtual infrastructure can also take time in terms of changing the way users think about managing their resources, Haff said.

The new tools could create lots of changes in the way customers' virtual shops run as VMware's ESX Server becomes little more than an appliance. This means that one of the biggest challenges for customers will be managing a traditional IT shop in a virtual world.

In a perfect virtualized world, provisioning a virtual machine might take three hours. It might take weeks to deploy a physical machine today. But even though the technical side of the job can be expedited, many of the mundane tasks of server provisioning, such as chargeback and asset tracking, still need to happen before a virtualized machine is created, said one principal technical analyst at a New Hampshire insurance company.

"Other functions in the company are now consolidated," said the analyst, who runs eight ESX Server hosts in production, six in a development environment and two proof-of-concept servers. "It's a real challenge to fit it all in."

Analysts acknowledge that VMware is racing against the clock as the revenue stream from hardware virtualization dries up. The company is moving upstream to take on more management functions. VMware High Availability, for example, cuts single points of failure by automatically relocating and restarting virtual machines.

"In some ways, VMware is now throwing down the gauntlet to system management vendors," said Vernon Turner, an analyst at International Data Corp., the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm.

In addition to its enterprise bundle, VMware is selling scaled down versions of VMware Infrastructure 3. A standard version of the bundle sells for $3,750 for two processors. A starter version sells for $1,000.

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