VMware has the lion's share of the server virtualization market, with a product range that provides everything from simple server consolidation for small businesses all the way to data center automation and fully fledged cloud computing environments for enterprises and service providers. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., at the time of this writing, VMware has more than 250,000 customers around the world.
If you are interested in virtualization, here's what you need to know about VMware's products:
Free Virtualization Technology
VMware vSphere Hypervisor (formerly ESXi Single Server) is VMware's free virtualization product, based around the ESXi bare metal hypervisor that lies at the heart of the company's current virtualization products. It is intended to be used by IT departments for testing and proof of concept purposes and to enable IT staff to become familiar with VMware virtualization technologies. It can also be used by small companies wishing to run a handful of workloads on a single server. Management of the hypervisor can be carried out only by logging on to the host using vSphere Client.
Small and Midsize Business Offerings
VMware vSphere Essentials and VMware vSphere Essentials Plus are aimed at small and medium sized businesses with between 100 and 1,000 employees and from 30 to 50 workloads to virtualize.
These two entry-level versions of VMware's vSphere 5.0 virtualization platform include the base ESXi hypervisor, plus basic VSphere features, including virtual symmetric multiprocessing; the vStorage virtual machine file system, which allows VMs to access shared stored devices over Fibre Channel and iSCSI; dynamic allocation of shared storage; and an automated patching and updating manager for applications and operating systems running in VMs.
Both products also include a cut down version of VMware's vCenter management platform called VMWare vCenter Server for Essentials. This provides centralized management and performance monitoring for virtual machines and physical hosts, including physical to virtual (P2V) conversions.
Smaller companies can also use VMware's vSphere Storage Appliance 1.0 to provide a form of low-cost shared storage. The software, managed from vCenter Server, enables SMBs to turn the internal disk storage on for up to three servers running vSphere so that they appear like conventional shared storage and can take advantage of vSphere's many features without the cost and complexity of a storage area network (SAN).
Essentials Plus adds three key business continuity features:
- vMotion enables live migration of running VMs from one physical host to another without interruption, eliminating the need for planned downtime for server maintenance
- High Availability provides automatic application or server restart after a hardware or operating system failure
- Data Recovery provides agentless backup and recovery
Enterprise Products--vSphere 5.0 Standard, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus
All three of these editions include features similar to the Essentials Plus version, i.e.:
- Thin Provisioning
- Update Manager
- Data Recovery
- High Availability
- Storage APIs for Data Protection
The Enterprise edition adds a number of additional features for better resource management, including:
- Hot add enables the addition of CPUs and RAM to VMs while they are running
- Storage vMotion moves live VM disk files across storage arrays when storage maintenance is necessary
- Distributed Resource Scheduler allocates VMs to the most appropriate physical resources within resource pools
- Fault tolerance provides continuous availability with zero data loss in the event of a server failure
- vShield Zones provides basic firewalling of traffic between virtual machines
The Enterprise Plus edition adds features for policy-based automation, including:
- Network and storage I/O control prioritizes the allocation of network and I/O resources to the most important VMs
- Auto-deployment of vSphere hosts
- Distributed Resource Scheduler for storage to automatically determine the best place to store VM data
- Storage grouped by policy
VMware vCenter Server
The three enterprise versions of vSphere require the separate purchase of vCenter Server (formerly VMware Virtual Center) to carry out virtualization management, including management and monitoring of clusters, hosts, VMs, storage and guest operating systems. It is also needed to access features such as vMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler, High Availability and Fault Tolerance.
vCenter Server has many plug-in modules that enhance the management system, including:
vCenter Site Recovery Manager enables the recovery of an entire data center after a disaster to a secondary data center using vSphere Replication and storage-based replication. vSphere Replication allows users to transfer data and virtual machines to a remote site without the need for storage array-based replication by moving the replication into vSphere software. Recovery Manager can also be used for non-disruptive testing, pre-emptive failovers and planned data center migrations--including data center consolidation after a corporate acquisition.
vCenter Operations uses analytics and visualizations to automate performance, capacity and configuration management.
vCenter Server has an open plug-in interface. More than 300 partners supply plug-ins that integrate with it to provide functionality in specialist fields such as capacity management, compliance management, business continuity and storage monitoring.