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4/23/2009
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Joe Hernick
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Rolling Review: VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3.5

Server virtualization's 800-pound gorilla gets more agile in the face of rising competition.

VMware Infrastructure 3.5, the 800-pound gorilla in our Rolling Review of hypervisors, continues to lead the virtualization pack in performance, support, and scalability.

In tests, the VMware Infrastructure suite -- comprising the VMware ESX hypervisor, vCenter Server, and client tools -- got our virtualization job done handily. But whether it's worth the premium price may be another matter.

Version 3.5 answers some calls for easier setup and management features. For example, VMware offers Guided Consolidation, an easy-to-use analysis tool for virtualizing Windows environments, along with new patch management capabilities and enterprise-class support. In addition, the VMware ecosystem offers thousands of ready-to-roll virtual appliances, and API tie-ins and vendor partnerships provide limitless management, reporting, automation, storage, and security options.

VMware also has the most difficult learning curve for novice admins and the highest price tag among the participants in this Rolling Review -- does this sound like a winning combo to you?

Citrix Systems promises that you'll only need a few minutes to achieve Xen, and we had our base Virtual Iron, Parallels, and Hyper-V test platforms up in less than an hour. Our virtualization-neophyte experience wasn't as smooth with VMware. Yes, ESX 3.5 did everything we asked of it for our small-business model test case -- and more -- but it took the better part of a day to get our base environment up and running. This was a "real world" test, using IT admin test subjects who have limited familiarity with virtualization and no familiarity with VMware. This is in line with many small IT shops, working under constricted budgets, with limited training options and cranky CFOs, faced with aging hardware and flat staffing models.

For shops still running VMware ESX 3.0, the incremental upgrade to 3.5 makes sense for the added management features and VirtualCenter improvements. New customers looking to get their feet wet can check out the 60-day free, full-featured trial to assess and experiment with physical to virtual conversions, consolidation modeling, and plain old-fashioned comfort and ease of daily use. Then again, all vendors in this Rolling Review offer some form of free demo. During the course of our testing, the price points changed for some participants, and additional technology and improvements have been introduced.

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To be clear, VMware is well worth a look. The planning tools are unmatched, and the potential for patch management and green computing options can make the high price worth it for many. The product just took a bit more head-scratching and manual-reading for initial setup than the competition.

We brought a Windows administrator with minimal virtualization experience into the virtualization test lab to help us get a newbie's perspective on the physical-to-virtual scenario. The best quote from our VMware experience? "Whaddaya mean I need an Oracle database? Oh -- SQL will work? Great. So here we go, setting up a SQL 2005 server to manage our VMware environment. This is what I need to use to get a global view, right?"

Right.

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