VMware vSphere products and features

Are you looking for a reality check on what VMware vSphere editions offer feature-wise? An expert breaks down the capabilities, pricing and installation concerns of vSphere versions.

VMware Inc. offers several flavors of its vSphere server virtualization infrastructure suite. In this guide to vSphere editions and features, we break down the differences between vSphere versions, review vSphere installation concerns, discuss vSphere pricing and, finally, discuss vSphere's role in cloud computing. Whether server consolidation, server management or moving to the cloud is your goal, this vSphere guide helps determine which vSphere edition makes the most sense for your virtualization environment and business needs.

What is vSphere?
VSphere is VMware's flagship server and infrastructure virtualization platform. VMware vSphere is sold as a single product but, in fact, is a suite of products made up of multiple pieces. VSphere is sold in various editions and the features offered are based on the edition you purchase.

VMware's vSphere editions differ from Microsoft Windows Server virtualization in that vSphere has many editions of the same product but each has a different feature-set. On the other hand, Microsoft's Hyper-V is an add-on to Windows Server 2008 which offers various editions but the virtualization features don't vary. To add to the confusion, vSphere was previously named VMware Infrastructure suite

What are vSphere 4 features?
Each edition of vSphere includes ESX or ESXi as its virtualization hypervisor which is loaded on each physical server. Just as critical are the vSphere 4 features that make ESX and ESXi so powerful.

For example, some of the new vSphere 4 features are the following:

  • VMotion: moved running virtual machines (VMs) from one server to another
  • Storage VMotion (SVMotion): moves the virtual disks of a running virtual machine from one data store to another
  • VMware High Availability (VMware HA or VMHA): reboots running virtual machines on another ESX server if an ESX host goes down
  • Fault Tolerance (FT): moves a running VMs from one ESX server to another if the server they are running on goes down
  • Distributed Power Management (DPM): when demand is low on the virtual infrastructure, running VMs are consolidated onto fewer servers and the unused servers are powered off
  • Consolidated Backup (or VCB): a VMware backup tool that enables you to backup running virtual machines using your existing backup application
  • vShield Zones: creates a virtual firewall within your virtual infrastructure

Which vSphere editions are available?
In addition to the ESXi free edition of vSphere, vSphere is sold in six editions:

  • vSphere Essentials
  • vSphere Essentials Plus
  • vSphere Standard
  • vSphere Advanced
  • vSphere Enterprise
  • vSphere Enterprise Plus

Is installing vSphere difficult?

VSphere installation is quite simple. You can install ESXi on just about any server, but consult the VMware Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) to determine which server hardware is compatible with your chosen virtualization platform and edition. The typical installation steps are to install (1) ESX or ESXi on a server and (2) vCenter on a Windows member server. For more information, check out the vSphere Installation Guide.

How much does vSphere cost?
Based on the edition, vSphere pricing varies. The vSphere Essentials edition starts at $995 for three hosts (maximum two processors per host and six cores per processor) and one year of software subscription. The vSphere Essentials bundle includes the ESX or ESXi hypervsior, Virtual Machine File System, four-way SMP (or symmetric multiprocessing), VMware Consolidated Backup, Update Manager, and vCenter Server Essentials.

Which new features are available in vSphere 4?

VSphere 4 offers various feature improvements over the previous version, VMware Infrastructure. They are the following:

  • Server Linked Mode
  • Host Profiles
  • vApps
  • centralized licensing
  • Thin provisioning
  • vCenter Orchestrator
  • Fault Tolerance
  • Data Recovery
  • vShield Zones
  • Virtual Machine hot add
  • vNetwork Distributed Switch (vDS)
  • performance and scalability enhancements

Read What's New in VMware vSphere 4 to learn more.

VSphere and cloud computing

VMware says that vSphere 4 is an operating system designed for building an internal or external cloud infrastructure. This "cloud OS," says VMware, is a foundation for treating virtualized workloads like an internal cloud by aggregating and managing large pools of infrastructure -- processors, storage and networking -- as a flexible and dynamic operating environment.

To learn more about the cloud computing-enabling features of VMware vSphere, read VMware's Cloud-OS and VMware's Cloud Computing pages.

About the author

David Davis is the director of infrastructure at TrainSignal.com -- the global leader in video training for IT pros. He has several certifications including vExpert, VMware Certified Profession (or VCP), CISSP, and CCIE #9369. Additionally, Davis has authored hundreds of articles and six video training courses at Train Signal, where one of the most popular course is the VMware vSphere 4 video training course. His website is VMwareVideos.com. You can follow Davis on Twitter or connect with him at David on LinkedIn.


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