VMware Strengthens Cloud Support With vSphere 5

VMware's pricing problem: As Microsoft and Citrix build functionality, customers may choose cheaper products that are "good enough."
Virtualization has reached the half way point, so said VMware CEO Paul Maritz in his opening remarks at Tuesday's introduction of vSphere 5, which focuses on enterprise cloud needs. Fifty percent of enterprise data center workloads now run virtualized, according to multiple sources, Maritz noted with some pride.

Maritz has reason be proud of that--just a decade ago virtualization was all but unknown outside of the realm of mainframes and high-end Unix systems. Through a confluence of Moore's Law and some ingenious software, much of it from VMware, most enterprises have now reduced their server count and improved overall performance, reliability, and manageability of their systems. It's been one of the very few unmitigated success stories for IT organizations over the past few years.

While VMware remains at the center of the virtualization revolution, a number of analysts--most notably Gartner with its recent magic quadrant--have declared that Citrix and Microsoft are catching up in terms of the functionality of their offerings. vSphere 5 is packed with technical advances (more on that below) intended to maintain the functionality gulf between VMware and the competition. What won't change is the sizable price differential between the fully tricked out vSphere product and the competition--though VMware has slightly simplified the product bundles and licensing (more on that below too).

Possibly in recognition of that, VMware has not changed the pricing of vSphere with version 5: the enterprise version remains at a list price of $2,845 per CPU and the enterprise plus version remains at $3,995. Enterprise Plus was released with version 4 of vSphere, and offers capabilities aimed at creating private clouds and at controlling business-critical workloads. What fractions of customers choose each of these? We asked, but VMware wouldn't say.

There's little doubt that VMware will continue to maintain its lead as a virtualization supplier in the short run, but doing so over the long run is tricky business. The industry is littered with corpses of titans who tried to maintain pricing on highly capable proprietary systems only to be beaten out by less costly ones that got the job done about as well. Names like Unisys, Novell, Silicon Graphics, Digital Equipment, and many more once flew high only to be brought low by disruptive functional commodity offerings.

Currently, VMware has to just be better than "the old way of doing things" in order to justify its price. But as Microsoft and Citrix build functionality, the equation changes, and customers may choose cheaper products that are "good enough" to get the job done.

vSphere 5 Is More Powerful
(click image for larger view)
vSphere 5 Is More Powerful
For those who love VMware products, there's plenty to be excited about in vSphere 5. Maritz said that he wants to virtualize that remaining 50% of workloads, and the headline features of this release speak to that goal. First, VMs themselves can be substantially larger and faster. They can now support 32 CPUs, a terabyte of memory, and turn out a million IOPS, that's about a fourfold increase over vSphere4. That might not catch every workload imaginable, it comes darn close.

Many of the most notable advances have to do with better management and virtualization of storage. vCenter Site Recover Manager is claimed to now be better able to fail over to dissimilar storage arrays--and now has better fail-back capabilities. Previously these capabilities were based on storage array capabilities, now they can rely on network-based replication. Workloads for storage systems can also be distributed and managed. Storage DRS (distributed resource scheduler) handles that.

For smaller shops, Storage Appliance 1.0 will allow the collecting together of local storage arrays and treating them a single storage pool with high availability functionality. Policy-based storage pool management has been improved as has provisioning of I/O to the extent that it is much harder for VMs running in the Enterprise Plus product to monopolize I/O and networking channels, thus allowing for better performance assurance of all VMs sharing an I/O infrastructure.

On the security side, vShield together with vCloud Director allows for defining virtual data centers and trust zones. These constructs keep sensitive data away from VMs that don't have a reason to "see" it. VMware has gone one better with a vShield App 5.0 Data Security feature, which allows admins to select the governance and compliance standards that apply to that data--with choices like HIPAA, PCI, DSS, and so on. While I question any attempt at push-button compliance, there's probably helpful stuff in this feature.

Finally licensing has been somewhat simplified for vSphere 5. The company has lifted licensing restrictions for cores per processor and RAM per host. It's also eliminated the "advanced" version of vSphere plus, leaving just Essentials, Essentials Plus, Standard, Enterprise, and Enterprise Plus.

While all of this points to a solid ability to create private cloud infrastructures, VMware points to 2,000 partners--many of whom are running pay as you go infrastructure-as-a-service offerings based on VMware technology. It makes the compelling case that the same tools that manage workloads in a private cloud can also be used to manage them in a hybrid cloud. VMware says that workloads can be moved into and out of the public cloud easily, and that they can even be moved between service providers--well, at least the tools allow for that. Service providers, we're told, use the same vSphere director product that IT shops would use internally to allow for multi-tenancy.

More complete API’s for the various products within vSphere should enable additional partnerships with software and management system providers. Notably, the director product should now better support third-party management products.

All in all there are plenty of technical advances packed into vSphere 5.0. Those current on their maintenance agreements will get the product later in this quarter.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

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