SAN FRANCISCO -- IT pros expecting a vSphere release this week didn’t get it -- but did get a glimpse into its future.
VMware bucked the trend of launching a major new vSphere version at VMworld here this year. Instead it offered a technology preview of vSphere 6 with long-awaited features and addressed complaints about the company’s core virtualization management software.
VMware vSphere 6, which will be generally available in the first half of 2015, will finally offer support for long-distance vMotion and cross-vCenter vMotion, the company said. VMware also previewed a revised Fault Tolerance feature that adds support for multiple vCPUs, acknowledging that a single vCPU limitation makes Fault Tolerance all but useless for most virtual machines (VMs).
Long-distance vMotion, which would allow companies to seamlessly migrate running VMs from servers on one side of North America to the other, is a feature VMware has mentioned in technology previews since 2009. It requires expensive networking infrastructure -- likely only feasible for large enterprises -- but VMworld attendees said they were encouraged that the long-talked-about feature is closer to production.
“A lot of large companies, and most companies in general, are interested in the idea of what I’d call geographic independence,” said Nathan Hosper, associate systems programmer for Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn. “Any feature that helps us abstract the server from the data center is always of value.”
An end to Web client woes
Among the most well received vSphere 6 features was a significantly revised Web Client.
Customers have often complained that the Web Client performs poorly compared to the current Windows-based C# client without support for VMware’s Update Manager and Site Recovery Manager (SRM). VMware fixed one of those problems recently, adding an SRM plug-in for vSphere. Fixes for other common Web Client criticisms are on the way, said Mike Adams, director of vSphere product marketing.
“We have heard your feedback loud and clear, and we will be making changes to make that better,” Adams said to attendees at a breakout session. “I know I have said that in the past, but I’ve really seen it in the development lab.”
VMware has looked at different ways to improve the Web Client’s speed, including rendering and refresh rates. The company may also consider building the client in HTML 5 instead of Flash. HTML 5 was not as popular or mature when VMware built the Web Client as it is now, Adams said.
“We haven’t publicly announced plans to shift the Web Client to that, but we will look at if it makes sense for us,” he said.
Adams also said VMware was addressing complaints that customers had a hard time locating features because of layout differences between the Web and Windows clients.
Despite the promise of improved vSphere Web Client performance, "it's still kind of touchy," said Brian Kirsch, an IT architect and instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
"Anything Web-based, when you look at any of their products -- the vSphere 5.5 version, the vCloud Director interface -- a lot of the things need specific browser versions,” he said. “VCloud Director needs a specific version of Firefox to work, and if you don't have it, you will spend three hours trying to figure it out. I don’t know if it's any kind of benefit.”
C# client sticking around, for now
The current iteration of the Web client is widely regarded by customers as an inadequate replacement for the C# client. Jared Sheltry, a systems engineer at SYS/TOMS Technology Partners in Boxford, Mass., said he was curious whether the vSphere 6 Web Client would offer a major improvement in performance speed.
“We tried the Web Client in 5.1, but it was so bad we didn’t use it,” Sheltry said. “I’ve seen a little bit of improvement in 5.5.”
VMware representatives previously told customers to prepare for the end of support for the Windows-based C# client in future vSphere releases. Adams backed away from those statements, however.
“For the time being, it’s not going anywhere," he said. "We’ve actually gotten a lot of feedback that people still like it.”
A vSphere 5.5 Update 2 incremental release to add support and scalability options will be available by September.
Site Editor Tom Walat contributed to this report.