VMware Sets the Stage for Server Virtualization in 2015

by Paul Rubens

VMware started the year off with a bang, announcing a clever set of new products and features to go along with the much-anticipated vSphere 6 debut.

So VMware finally ripped the drapes off vSphere 6 in a remarkably low-key manner in San Francisco on February 2. Let's just say Pat Gelsinger is no Steve Jobs.

In fact, the event involved more than just vSphere 6 itself: there were a number of announcements about a whole raft of products beyond vSphere 6.

And very impressive are some of these products, Virtually Speakingalthough each announcement was not interrupted by rapturous applause from the audience. This was serious stuff.

The theme for the event was Any device, Any application, One cloud. Which isn't very helpful really. But there were new products in four key areas, and the order of the announcements says a lot about what VMware's priorities are these days.

Any Device, Any Application, One Cloud

First up was vCloud Air Hybrid Networking Services, which involves some clever virtual networking-foo using VMware's NSX network virtualization product "enabling customers to achieve zero trust security in the cloud," according to Gelsinger.

What this means is that, once it is released (at some point in the first half of this year,) VMware users will be able to use NSX in their data center and on into VMware's vCloud Air public cloud via a gateway device. The public cloud will be an extension of the private data center and customers will be able to implement a true hybrid cloud computing network for the first time, Gelsinger gushed.

What you'll get is a single secure networking domain. "VMware vCloud Air hybrid networking services will enable customers to maintain hundreds of virtual networks spanning the private cloud and vCloud Air over a single WAN connection, and share the same fine-grained 'zero trust' security policies and network isolation for applications, unchanged," the company said.

Next up was the announcement of VMware Integrated OpenStack, an OpenStack distribution that provides a way to integrate an OpenStack cloud environment with a VMware one. VMware has to tread a fine line here, praising the open-source OpenStack cloud platform without doing it to such a degree that it undermines VMware's own rather more expensive cloud platform.

Gelsinger rather cleverly settled for describing OpenStack as "a bubbling cauldron of innovation," implying lots of goodness but in a rather raw, less than fully-formed state. He said that the new distro allows developers to set up their environments with two or three hundred machines, while the main corporate infrastructure of thousands of virtual machines runs on VMware infrastructure.

The OpenStack distro will provide full integration with VMware's cloud management platform, "enabling customers to leverage existing VMware expertise to manage and troubleshoot an OpenStack cloud," the company says.

Getting Back to the Heart of Server Virtualization for VMware

You could be forgiven for forgetting that VMware is, at its heart, all about server virtualization. But finally Gelsinger made it to the server virtualization capabilities of the vSphere 6 hypervisor itself. Quite a few enhancements were already known about version 6, such as long distance vMotion, enhanced fault tolerance and instant cloning (formerly Project Fargo), but now the raw VM handling capabilities have been cranked up a notch or two.

What we have now is a platform capable of handling 64 hosts per cluster (formerly 32), 8000 VMs per cluster (4000) and 480 CPUs per host (320). The maximum RAM is now 12 TB (4TB) per host and 4TB (1TB) per VM, and the number of maximum VMs per host has shot up to 2048 (512).

What this means is that a VMware VM can now play host to some very big database applications indeed. "SAP HANA environments are very big and run in memory. 4TB lets 100% of our customers run HANA," says Gelsinger.

Finally, Gelsinger announced some changes to its Virtual SAN product in vSAN 6.0. One big change is the availability of all-flash vSANs, which will provide four times the IOPs of vSAN 5.5, as well as enterprise data services like snapshots, clones and rack awareness. There's also new support for direct-attached JBODs, so customers will be able to scale VMware Virtual SAN 6 clusters to large capacity in server blade environments.

The company also talked about vSphere Virtual Volumes, a set of storage APIs that will enable a more granular integration between storage and VMware vSphere at the individual virtual machine level. This enables the storage array to dynamically provision capacity and data services for each virtual machine, and for those arrays to be managed through a common control plane.

Virtual Volumes-enabled storage products from the likes of Atlantis Computing, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, NEC, NetApp, NexGen Storage, Pure Storage, Symantec and Tintri should be available in the first half of the year.

Summarizing VMware's Announcements

All in all, it's a clever set of new products and features. Let's do a quick summary.

  • vCloud Air Hybrid Networking Services - By exploiting its NSX product and offering NSX-based hybrid clouds, the company can differentiate its cloud from, say, Amazon's, and charge a premium for its vCloud Air offering. Nice.
  • VMware Integrated OpenStack - OpenStack is not going away, and in fact VMware contributes to it. Since customers won't ignore it, it doesn't make sense for VMware to make it difficult for them to use it. And by embracing it, VMware actually makes its management infrastructure all the more powerful. Smart.
  • vSphere 6.0 - Bigger and better. Predictable.
  • vSAN 6.0 - Flash vSANs were only a matter of time. Virtual Volumes shows that VMware has a great deal of power over storage vendors and isn't afraid to use it. Storage vendors are rushing to sign up for fear of being left out, but doing so hands more management power to VMware and is a step towards turning storage systems into commodity storage for the VMware ecosystem. Clever.

All in all, not a bad day for VMware.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Feb 25th 2015
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