The three components to VMware's release are enhancements to VMware's core ESX hypervisor platform with version 3.5. VMware has also added features and functionality in its Virtual Infrastructure suite; and rejiggered its pricing and bundles.
At least one beta tester, Miami-based managed hosting provider Terremark Worldwide Inc., is leaning heavily toward the embedded version of ESX for future deployments. Jason Lochhead, principal architect, began deploying a beta version of the embedded hypervisor in August and found it much easier to install and manage. "One of the things is that we don't have to put disks in the [server], and we don't have to carve out a LUN [logical unit number] on the SAN [storage area network] for the boot image," Lochhead said. ESX 3i's smaller surface area is touted as being more secure than the full version, but it also has practical benefits, Lochhead said: It's one less thing to patch.
Ideally, Lochhead would like to buy ESX 3i from Terremark's preferred server vendor, HP. "I'd just as soon have it just show up." Barring that, Lochhead said building a bootable USB drive with the ESX 3i image was pretty simple too.
A hyped-up hypervisor
The core ESX 3.5 code brings many long-awaited features to the table, delivering new storage, networking, memory, processor and operating system support.
While NPIV support is not explicitly mentioned in the press release, "there is a subset of customers for whom NPIV is important," said Jon Bock, VMware senior product marketing manager. With it enabled, shops can opt to use Fibre Channel zoning techniques to expose LUNs on a SAN to individual virtual machines rather than to entire ESX hosts or clusters of hosts. "With NPIV, there's much more granularity in how you carve up this access," Bock said.
NPIV also promises to be a boon to storage resource management (SRM) vendors, because it gives them better visibility into individual virtual machines (VMs), said Mark Bowker, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Mass.But in its first release, NPIV support is available only to users whose VMs reside on raw devices, not on VMFS virtual disks, Bock said. Plans are under way to support NPIV on virtual disks, but for the time being, "NPIV on raw devices was what was possible for us to release." Improved CPU utilization. New networking capabilities in ESX 3.5 include support for Jumbo Frames, which allows Ethernet to transport larger frames for improved CPU utilization and increased throughput. Also included is support for TCP Segment Offload (TSO), in which part of the TCP processing is offloaded from the main CPU to a TSO-enabled Network Interface Card (NIC). As far as memory and processor support are concerned, ESX 3.5 will now support the extended memory management features resident in the latest x86 microprocessors, namely Nested Page Tables on the Opteron processor from American Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) as well as Extended Page Tables on the Intel Virtualization Technology, or Intel VT, platform. "Until now, ESX only supported hardware assist for CPU virtualization," said Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's senior director of product marketing. Furthermore, ESX 3.5 also supports more memory per guest -- 64 GB, up from 16 GB -- and per physical host: 128 GB, up from 64 GB.
Finally, ESX 3.5 adds formal support for Linux guests that support the paravirt-ops standard. Those guests must run on Linux kernels 2.6.21 or later. To date, Ubuntu Linux 7.04.is the only shipping commercial Linux distribution to support the standard.
For his part, Terremark's Lochhead expects to move to 3.5 relatively quickly -- within a couple of months of general availability, he said. "When we migrated from [ESX] 2.5 to 3.0, we had to do a VMFS migration, and that was pretty time-consuming," he said. Since moving to from 3.0 to 3.5 requires no such changes, "I suspect the migration will go pretty quick in this case."
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