VMware Announces Enhanced Virtualization Infrastructure

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VMware vSphere 4 promises a far faster and more robust virtual platform with editions for businesses of all sizes.

By Chris Smith

VMware has introduced a groundbreaking upgrade to its operating system and suite of tools that increases performance to such an extent that there is now little downside to operating in a virtual environment, given all the reliability, management, and cost benefits to running VMware on x86 servers.


VMware vSphere 4, which has been in beta and operating in test environments at a number of companies, was formally announced this week by VMware and is expected to be released for general availability before the end of June. The company is enthusiastic about the benefits of the new platform over the current VMware Infrastructure 3, touting increased consolidation ratios of 30 percent, storage savings of up to 50 percent, and power and cooling savings up to 20 percent over the current platform.


The company announced six editions of the operating system to meet various requirements, use cases, and budgets of customers of different sizes. Priced as low as $995 for three physical servers or $166 per processor, VMware vSphere 4 is designed to appeal to every business--from the small office to the large datacenter environment.


"VMware vSphere 4 is setting new records in virtualization performance as the result of continuous improvements to the software and years of diligent work with hardware vendors," said Dr. Stephen Herrod, chief technology officer of VMware. "This translates into higher consolidation ratios and application performance that meets, and in some cases, exceeds, that of physical deployments," he said.


The new operating system demonstrates some impressive performance benchmarks such as the following:

•  A performance throughput record of 8,900 database transactions per second

•  Performance efficiencies of 90 percent or better compared to running applications natively as tested on a SQL Server database using eight CPUs per virtual machine

•  Triple the number of I/O operations per second compared to Infrastructure 3, reaching more than 300,000 operations per second, far more than today's most demanding databases

•  Record virtual machine network throughput that shows up to 100 percent performance improvement over Infrastructure 3 and fully saturating hardware bus limits of 30 Gbps


VMware has been working closely with processor vendors AMD and Intel to incorporate their hardware assist for virtualization into the new software. Last year, VMware was the first company to support the second-generation AMD-Rapid Virtualization Indexing (RVI) technology. It is now the first and only company to support Intel's Extended Page Tables (EPT) and VMDq technology, according to the company.


The new operating system delivers more powerful virtual machines than were available from the previous generation of infrastructure including the following virtual machine enhancements:


•  Twice the number of virtual processors per virtual machine--from four to eight

•  Two and a half times more virtual NICs per virtual machine--from four to 10

•  Four times more memory per VM--from 64 GB to 255 GB

•  Specific application performance improvements include an estimated 50 percent improved performance for application development workload and an estimated 30 percent improved performance for Citrix XenApp, the company reported. 


Since pioneering virtualization for x86 systems 10 years ago, VMware has delivered an impressive list of industry firsts. It introduced the first x86 hypervisor; the first live migration of running virtual machines from one server to another; and the first platform for pooling servers, storage, and networks. VMware has generally been responsible for reducing the capital and operating costs of computing by more half, the company estimates. 


"VMware vSphere 4 is the next evolution...," said Paul Maritz, president and chief executive officer of VMware. "By giving IT organizations a non-disruptive path to cloud computing, we will be leading our customers on a journey that delivers value every step of the way, delivering up to an additional 30 percent cost reduction...while enabling IT to provide reliable and adaptable IT services."


The new operating system supports VMware's vision of delivering IT as a service. With a wide range of new capabilities, VMware vSphere 4 will allow enterprises to offer virtualized cloud computing both internally and externally through its ability to aggregate a large number of virtual machines and physical infrastructure into a single logical resource pool or "compute plant." The new software can pool together up to...


•  32 physical servers with up to 2,048 processor cores

•  1,280 virtual machines

•  32 TB of RAM

•  16 petabytes of storage

•  8,000 network ports


The new generation of VMware's operating system extends the application availability benefits from the SMB environment into the enterprise, providing protection for mission-critical applications, the company says. In addition to the VMware management console, VMware vSphere 4 also offers the following utilities:


•  VMware Fault Tolerance and High Availability--Continuous availability for infrastructure and applications

•  VMware VMotion--Enables live migration of virtual machines from one server to another with no downtime

•  VMware Data Recovery--Automated backup and recovery for all applications and data; integrates with VMware's management client

•  VMware vShield Zones--Secures applications and data inside a dynamic firewall that maintains protection across both the physical and virtual environments


The company is offering VMware vSphere 4 in the following six editions:

•  VMware vSphere 4 Essentials--Provides an all-in-one virtualization solution for the small office IT environment. Priced at $995 for three physical servers or $166 per processor.

•  VMware vSphere 4 Essentials Plus--Adds high availability and data protection capabilities for the small office IT environment. Integrated availability, data protection, patch management, and customizable alerts and reports are included. Price is $2,995 for three physical servers or $499 per processor.

•  VMware vSphere 4 Standard--Provides significant server consolidation ROI. Thin provisioning for up to 50 percent lower storage costs. Performance optimization for up to 30 percent higher consolidation ratios than previous VMware software. Priced at $795 per processor.

•  VMware vSphere 4 Advanced--Live migration with VMware VMotion. Continuous availability from VMware Fault Tolerance. VMware Data Recovery for backup. VMware vShield Zones for security. Priced at $2,245 per processor.

•  VMware vSphere 4 Enterprise--Adds automated resource management with VMware DRS and VMware Storage VMotion. Priced at $2,875 per processor.

•  VMware vSphere 4 Enterprise Plus--Full range of VMware vSphere 4 features for transforming data centers into internal cloud computing environments. Priced at $3,495 per processor. VMware vNetwork Distributed Switch and VMware Host Profiles for simplifying the operational management of large deployments.


The company also announced special upgrade promotions for existing VMware infrastructure customers that are running VMware Infrastructure 3 with valid support and subscription contracts. For more information on these, visit http://www.vmware.com/go/vsphere-upgrade-center.


VMware has a broad ecosystem of technology partners numbering more than 22,000. Some 500 of these have committed to support VMware vSphere 4 by the end of this year. The company also announced new services within the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace (VAM) to help businesses explore cloud computing offerings based on VMware software. Included in the new services is a beta release of VMware VAM App on Demand, which will allow businesses to run and evaluate software in the cloud. It also is running free trials of VMware vCloud partner offerings.


"With expanded offerings of the VMware VAM, VMware is making it easier than ever to try applications and services in the cloud from a wide range of ISVs, developers, and service providers," said Dan Chu, vice president, emerging products and markets at VMware. The VMware VAM has more than 1,000 virtual appliances--applications packaged along with metadata and managed as a single virtualized unit--in its library.


VMware's new infrastructure for improving the manageability and reliability of x86 environments and its enhanced offerings for larger enterprises--which include built-in high availability--will continue to level the playing field with IBM server offerings and exert even greater pressure on price in an already tight server market.