Hardware & Infrastructure
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7/21/2006
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Hands On: New VMware Releases Present Upgrade Dilemma

VMware's virtual machine technology lets users run multiple operating environments without running multiple hardware systems. Our columnist describes the configuration that worked for him, the options he tried getting there, and what's coming up from VMware.

One surprise in all of this, however, is that I haven't really saved that much time over having to manage a collection of individual systems. Sure I've saved money on capital investment and energy costs, but all of the virtual systems still have to be configured and managed to the same extent as real systems, so my operational expense has not changed very much (this is especially true considering the time I spent on trying to get Solaris to work, which easily exceeded what would have been required of using a real PC that probably would have worked immediately).

Restarting?

Nothing stands still in this industry, however, and given that VMware is in the process of releasing new product lines, I'm having to reconsider my platform choices all over again.

For starters, there is the recent release of ESX 3.0. Even though most of the new features in ESX 3.0 are oriented towards datacenter installations, it also seems to address many of my (admittedly) pedestrian needs. In particular, the product now has official support for Solaris 10 and some other operating systems that I need to use. It also has initial support for iSCSI (albeit software-only at this point), which would allow me to use my SATA II drives. It also appears to have some improved management tools, not to mention that I would get SNMP and local management visibility into the host and virtual machines. On the other hand, ESX 3.0 still seems to have very strict hardware requirements (but at least this time I know to believe the specs), and installing custom software still looks to be difficult and discouraged.

But I can't stay with GSX for much longer either, given that the company is in the process of replacing the GSX line with the new VMware Server product, which just started shipping too. VMware Server also promises some of the same improvements found in ESX 3.0, especially in the areas of official support for guest operating systems, and better administrative tools. But it does not yet address my need for SNMP visibility (and the WMI bugs don't seem to have been fixed either), nor does it appear to have any kind of explicit support for iSCSI (the technology is very nearly disavowed by the support personnel).

All told, ESX and VMware Server are pretty much tied on my features scorecard. For now, I think the deciding factor has to be hardware. In particular, ESX 3.0 currently only has official support for its own software-based iSCSI initiator, and that's the only way I can get to my SATA II array. On the other hand, I can use any of the hardware-based iSCSI adapters I want to with VMware Server as long as there is a Windows driver, and as long as I don't have to talk to VMware support about it (and I'm about to experiment with some QLogic QLA4052C dual-gigabit adapters just this purpose). However, VMware is planning to add hardware-based iSCSI initiator support in a subsequent point release, and at that point the scales will tip back in its favor.

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