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VMware to tackle vCenter availability with new Server Heartbeat

Alex Barrett

VMware administrators who worry about the availability of their VMware vCenter servers may soon breathe a sigh of relief. Later this month, VMware will announce vCenter Server Heartbeat, a high-availability offering that protects the management server from most data center failures.

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Speaking on a conference call with partners on Tuesday, David Friedlander, VMware's senior product marketing manager, said that VMware will announce Server Heartbeat on February 24 at VMworld Europe and that it will be generally available by mid-March.

About 90% of VMware customers, and practically all medium-sized and large enterprises, use vCenter (formerly called VirtualCenter). And while vCenter is not a requirement of a Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) environment per se, virtualization functionality can stop working if it goes down, Friedlander said. If vCenter fails, VMware's Live migration with VMotion, load balancing with Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), license management, and performance monitoring all cease to function.

Architecturally, Server Heartbeat is implemented on active/passive vCenter server clones, running on physical or virtual machines. In addition to server and network hardware, Server Heartbeat monitors the actual vCenter instance, its back-end database, and the underlying operating system. In the case of failure, the passive node takes over, and Heartbeat restarts the vCenter service. Failover can occur over both LANs and WANs.

By way of comparison, the company's existing VMware HA works only if vCenter runs in a virtual machine, and it has no awareness of the vCenter application itself, Friedlander explained. Similarly, the experimental VMware Fault Tolerance (FT) has no application awareness; if vCenter experiences a corruption, FT would mirror that corruption to the remote machine.

Server Heartbeat's vital signs 
Server Heartbeat has advantages over third-party clustering and replication availability products like Microsoft Cluster Service (MSCS),  Symantec Veritas Cluster Server (VCS) , Neverfail for VMware vCenter and  SteelEye Protection Suite for VMware Infrastructure 3, Friedlander told partners. MSCS can be difficult to configure, and has hardware dependencies, while replication products can be expensive, Friedlander said.

That said, Friedlander also acknowledged that VMware had not developed Server Heartbeat itself, but that it was based on an existing product that it would name at VMworld. Based on their familiarity with available products, sources speculated that Server Heartbeat was based on Neverfail's product.

Server Heartbeat will protect only vCenter instances running on Microsoft Windows, using Microsoft SQL Server as its back-end database; Linux and Oracle databases will not be supported in this version. Heartbeat will be available for vCenter version 2.5, and the next version when it ships later this year. Pricing was listed at $9,995 per existing vCenter instance – including the database -- or $12,995 when bundled with a vCenter license.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.


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