Server Virtualization Buyer's Guide -- VMware

by Paul Rubens

VMware reigns as leader of the server virtualization market, offering a product range spans from simple server consolidation for SMBs to data center automation and fully fledged cloud computing environments for enterprises and service providers.

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:

  1. vMotion enables live migration of running VMs from one physical host to another without interruption, eliminating the need for planned downtime for server maintenance
  2. High Availability provides automatic application or server restart after a hardware or operating system failure
  3. 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
  • vMotion
  • 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.


VMware vCloud

The vCloud family of products and services is VMware's solution for extending a virtualized data center based on vSphere and vCenter Server to provide private cloud capabilities including self-service application catalogs, virtual data centers and the ability to move applications running in the private cloud to and from a public cloud to create a hybrid cloud environment.

The vCloud family includes:

  • vCloud Director - the key component of the VMware cloud platform, managing the entire cloud infrastructure and enabling catalog-based service delivery
  • vCloud Request Manager - adding approval workflows to provisioning requests, automatically tracking software license usage and enforcing standardized settings for efficient cloud governance and asset management
  • vCenter Chargeback - providing metering to enable chargeback or "showback" for resource usage to help ensure cloud applications make financial sense
  • vCloud Connector - allowing VMs running in the public cloud to be managed through vCenter

Other VMware Products

VMware has numerous other products including:

  • vShield, a virtualization security product family for the vSphere platform
  • vFabric, a cloud application platform product family
  • ThinApp, for application virtualization
  • Desktop virtualization products, such as VMware workstation

vSphere and vCenter Server pricing

All prices are in U.S. dollars for the United States and do not include any applicable taxes.

vSphere 5

VMware vSphere 5 Essentials
Kit for 3 hosts (max 2 processors per host) and 192GB vRAM
License: $495 Support $65 +$299 per incident

VMware vSphere 5 Essentials Plus
Kit for 3 hosts (max 2 processors per host) and 192GB vRAM
License: $4,495 Support $944 Basic, $1,124 Production

VMware vSphere 5 Standard
For 1 processor (with 32 GB vRAM entitlement) and up to 8-way SMP
License $995 Support $273 Basic, $323 Production

VMware vSphere 5 Enterprise
For 1 processor (with 64 GB vRAM entitlement) and up to 8-way SMP
License $2,875 Support $604 Basic, $719 Production

VMware vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus
For 1 processor (with 96 GB vRAM entitlement) and up to 32-way SMP
License $3,495 Support $734 Basic, $874 Production

Licenses entitle the free use of an unlimited number of VMs running SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for VMware, with a free subscription to updates and patches.

vShpere 5 Licensing Explained

vRAM is defined as the memory configured to a virtual machine. vRAM entitlements can be pooled across all CPU licenses managed by a vCenter instance (or multiple linked vCenter instances) to form total pooled vRAM capacity.

When a VM is powered on, the vRAM configured to that virtual machine counts against the pooled vRAM capacity up to a maximum of 96GB (i.e., a VM with 128GB of configured vRAM will only use 96GB from the pooled vRAM capacity).

vRAM capacity can be monitored in the licensing management module of vCenter Server, and additional vRAM entitlements can be acquired by purchasing additional vSphere licenses for the same edition, or upgrading all CPU licenses to an edition with a higher vRAM entitlement.

vCenter Server

VMware vCenter Server 5 Foundation for vSphere
Up to 3 hosts (per instance)
License: $1,495, Support $545 Basic, $645 Production

VMware vCenter Server 5 Standard for vSphere 5
Per instance
License: $4,995, Support $1,049 Basic, $1,249 Production

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Sep 7th 2011
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