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VMware ESX 3.5 features: Too little, too soon?

Real or perceived, some longtime VMware users say that the latest versions of ESX and VirtualCenter are riddled with annoying bugs and incomplete features.

The virtualization blogosphere and message boards abound with posts detailing problems and limitations of VMware Inc.'s ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 releases, prompting some users to say that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company may have pushed the latest version of its VMware Infrastructure 3 suite out the door a bit too quickly.

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In a blog post, Bob Plankers, a systems administrator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a VMware user, listed several problems with ESX 3.5, including ESX 3.5's new remote command line interface (CLI), and the lack of GUI support for Storage VMotion.

Quality control seems to have slipped a bit.
Bob Plankers
the Lone Sysadmin blog

Plankers cited another problematic new feature in VirtualCenter 2.5 that helps keep VMware Tools up to date automatically. "That kind of feature is a godsend to people like me, but it only works right on Windows," he said in an interview with SearchServerVirtualization.com. If you try and use that feature on a Linux virtual machine, it loses network connectivity. "That makes a 'feature' totally unusable," Plankers said.

"What bothers me most about Virtual Infrastructure 3.5 is that overall it is a step backwards. Sure, there are new features, but each new feature has some Achilles [ sic] heel that makes it hard to use," Plankers wrote. Plankers added that these issues were a first for him. "Earlier releases of VMware software didn't seem to have the details problems of ESX 3.5. ... Quality control seems to have slipped a bit."

ESX 3.5: Overblown point release?
Users' gripes with ESX 3.5 may have more to do with overinflated expectations than with any actual severe product shortcomings, said Andrew Kutz, an independent virtualization expert and consultant and the creator of the newly launched VI Plugins.

"I'm largely happy with ESX 3.5 as a platform," Kutz said, "but it seems more like a service pack than a full-fledged release" The problem, Kutz continued, is "that it was marketed to be more than just a point release; it was marketed as the evolution of ESX, and they can't have it both ways."

That perception may have been exacerbated by VMware's promotion of several new "experimental" features in 3.5 -- features like Distributed Power Management that VMware will accept bug reports on, but that it won't support in production.

"I can understand that they want to get an experimental product out there, but they shouldn't market things that are labeled experimental," said Plankers.

And for his part, Chris Wolf, an analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, agrees that purported problems may be more a case of perception than reality. "I haven't heard of any major problems with it that would scare people away, but you're never going to have a perfect software release," he said. "I don't know of any software vendor that writes perfect code."

Furthermore, VMware is subject to increased competition from the likes of Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft and Virtual Iron Software Inc. and is enjoying an ever-more sophisticated customer base, Wolf said. "There are some things that VMware may have gotten a pass on in the past, but now everything is under a microscope, and competitors are being very aggressive about pointing out what might be seen as disparities in their products."

VMware jumps to attention
Whatever the case, since going public with their laundry list of complaints, users reported that VMware has been quite responsive to concerns.

After posting his blog, Plankers said that he received a call from VMware's communities manager, John Troyer, and that he had already spoken to VMware engineers. "We're to the point of seeing some sort of resolution," he said.

Similarly, Scott Lowe, a consultant at ePlus Inc., and a prolific virtualization writer, blogged about his gripes with ESX 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5, but later said VMware contacted him promptly to discuss his ESX 3.5 misgivings.

"The point of this story -- and yes, there is a point -- is what happened after those posts," Lowe wrote. "Within just a few days, VMware contacted me. No, not to hound me for speaking out against them, but to thank me for 'keeping them honest' (their words) and to offer assistance in working with me to resolve these issues. Since that time, I've spoken with several product managers and senior product managers within VMware, all of whom seem genuine in their desire to make sure that the issues I experienced aren't the results of bugs in the product or, if they are bugs, to identify them and fix them."

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

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