VMware vSphere 6 meets expectations, but little more

VMware finally delivers vSphere 6, along with a suite of applications and tools, looking to buttress its hybrid cloud strategy.

VMware stopped the talk and walked the walk with its long-awaited vSphere 6 platform -- the cornerstone of VMware's...

 hybrid cloud and software-defined data center strategies.

There were few surprises as the company delivered vSphere 6 this week along with a handful of related products including VMware vCloud Suite 6, VMware Virtual SAN 6 (VSAN), VMware vSphere with Operations Management -- all with the features the company had promised at its annual conference in August. A general availability date has not been provided, but is expected sometime this quarter.

Most observers said the new capabilities in vSphere 6 makes the product more attractive to larger IT shops and makes up for the lack of excitement.

“This [vSphere] release is about being bigger, more robust,” said Ed Haletky, principal analyst at The Virtualization Practice. “It’s about filling in the gaps of what people wanted for a very long time."

The new features represent an evolutionary jump in capabilities, said Richard Fichera, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. 

“The basic vSphere environment is generally more robust, where they have improved the high availability feature, scaled the cluster size of VMs and improved cloud management,” Fichera said.

What's new in vSphere 6.0

The latest version of vSphere includes more than 650 feature improvements. VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger called vSphere 6.0 “the biggest ever release of vSphere,” but most of the improvements he highlighted during a live Web event focused on routine scalability advances and long-expected features that the company had promised to deliver.

Several of those new features address usability complaints from users, including fixes for the vSphere Web Client and Fault Tolerance for multi-processor VMs. This version of the software will again feature a revamped Single Sign-On feature, which VMware first rolled out with vSphere 5.1, then redesigned for vSphere 5.5 amid user complaints.

VSphere 6 doubles the configuration maximum for many key metrics over the previous version, including support for up to 128 virtual CPUs and 4 TB of virtual RAM per VM. VSphere 6 also supports significantly larger clustering scenarios, doubling the number of supported hosts per cluster to 64 and VMs per cluster to 8000.

Long-distance vMotion, another long-expected feature, will also finally see the light of day with vSphere 6.0. And now, the feature once thought to be relevant only to large organizations with multiple data centers across the world has a clear use case.

“Long distance vMotion is partially about vCloud Air,” Haletky said. “They’ve been talking about it a long time, but who really benefits from it? It is yet another way to integrate your vSphere environment with vCloud Air or any other vSphere platform running anywhere.”

VMware also updated VSAN, its storage virtualization software, and will package it with vSphere 6. VSAN will now support all-flash storage arrays and be scalable to up to 64 nodes per cluster. VMware also realigned version numbers, calling this edition VSAN 6.0, though this is only the second major release for the software the company debuted in early 2014.

Some observers were glad to see the arrival of VMware’s Instant Clone or “VM forking” software, code named Project Fargo, which is designed to accelerate VM startup. This capability could prove useful in quickly scaling up a large number of virtual machines to meet the needs of spiking traffic on a web site.

“[Project Fargo] lays the groundwork for future on-demand computing that not a lot of people are paying attention to yet,” said Todd Knapp CEO of Envision, Inc., a Pawtucket-based systems integrator.  “If you can combine the ability to do VM forking with on-demand desktop and [App Volumes], you can roll thousands of desktops instantly to the user population complete with applications and things like profiling. That’s pretty powerful.”

One user pointed out that VMware’s Instant Clone feature is somewhat similar to a capability Tintri, Inc. offers in its storage arrays. While it is not a new concept, it is useful.

“When we do network saturation testing in our development lab to test how product software will function, we deploy and destroy 1,000 to 4,000 VMs per day,” said Scott Gottesman, virtualization architect at Florida-based Ultimate Software who uses a Tintri array. “Using that array with instant cloning, we can deploy 1,000 machines in under an hour,” he said.

Underscoring its commitment to support open frameworks, VMware also rolled out its first OpenStack distribution to help IT shops build and manage clouds. The offering will make it easier for IT to supply developers with open API access to VMware infrastructure, the company said. Most observers were heartened by the release, but wished to withhold judgment until they see it work with other OpenStack deployments.

“This is their first swing at the product. I think the proof is going to be in how well it does interfacing with existing OpenStack deployments and how extensible it can be,” Knapp said. “It may be too early to have a meaningful opinion about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is never bad for organizations [likeVMware] to help proliferate open technologies.”

While analysts agreed the updates to the company’s flagship virtualization management software were welcome, they also indicated capabilities from competitors, such as Citrix XenServer and Microsoft’s Hyper-V, were catching up and that they would be expecting more from VMware next time around.

The question remains whether this release wipes the slate clean so there are no outstanding major requests enabling VMware to concentrate on innovating new tools and features, the Virtualization Practice's Haletky said.

“They have to have a big announcement at the next VMworld,” Haletky said. “Something more than a product name change, something innovative that has not been shared before VMworld, not even to influencers. They need to take us by surprise.”

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VMware is in an interesting stage in their business. There is very little that people still want from the hypervisor (maybe larger VMs for UNIX migrations), so continuing to ask customers to upgrade is a daunting task. And the vRealize Suite is very complex (lots of pieces, only a "suite" in name/license), so customers are either focused on on-going support or are weary if VMware will try and bundle their newer innovations (NSX, AirWatch) into the core ELAs. 
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