Virtualization, VMware, VMworld, vSphere

VMware releases vSphere 5.1

Today, at VMworld in San Francisco, VMware released a new version of their virtualization platform, namely vSphere 5.1.

To anyone who has been working with vSphere for some time, the version number won’t be that big of a surprise. Also, just before the weekend, the new version number actually showed up in the VMware Compatibility Guide (and was taken offline again over the weekend). But, as little surprise as the version number was, there was one quite big surprise that went along with all of the sparkly new features: A change in the licensing model.

Rumors were already circulating a week before the convention, and this change certainly wasn’t an easy decision for VMware. I was in an early partner briefing, and while we were getting the briefing, there were still mails going around inside of VMware, and a change in the licensing policy was actually communicated via an internal mail during the briefing. Since most people didn’t really like the change in licensing that came with vSphere 5, VMware made a subsequent change in its new licensing policy just a month after releasing vSphere 5.

So, what changed in the licensing department?

It all become much easier to deal with, since VMware dropped the VRAM licensing model. Yes, you read that right, VMware is no longer charging the virtualized RAM. The short version is this:

vRAM licensing is no longer used, the licensing is now per CPU socket.

There are other changes like the VMware vCloud Suite, but I will cover this in a different post.

And what is new in the technology department?

Well, the usual upgrade in terms of bumped maximums:

  • Up to 64 virtual CPUs
  • Up to 1TB of vRAM
  • Up to 32 hosts can now access a linked clone
  • 16Gb FC HBA support

And more things that will put vSphere and Hyper-V on par from a maximums standpoint. But I don’t really think that those limits are interesting. To find the latest maximums we can have a look at the configuration maximums guide. So, what else has changed?

  • Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration (vSGA)
    “vSGA expands upon existing non‐hardware accelerated graphics capabilities for basic 3D workloads, by supporting accelerating VDI workloads using physical GPU resources. With this new capability, it is now possible to virtualize physical GPU resources, sharing them across virtual desktops. This functionality supports an array of graphically rich and intense applications such as full motion video, rich media services, and more demanding 3D graphics”To actually use this feature, you currently need an NVIDIA GPU that is based on the GF100 architecture (Fermi) such as the Quadro 4000, Quadro 5000 or Quadro 6000  series. For people who like to dig around, this is also what the X server is for in the installation media.
  • No more reboots to upgrade the VMware tools
    You read that right. You can now perform an online upgrade of the VMware tools for any VM that is running Windows Vista, or a later Windows release.
  • Network Health Check
    “Assures proper physical and virtual operation by providing health monitoring for physical network setups including VLAN, MTU or Teaming. Today, vSphere administrators have no tools to verify whether the physical setup is capable of deploying virtual machines correctly. Even simple physical setups can be frustrating to debug end to end. Network health check eases these issues by giving you a window into the operation of your physical and virtual network”
  • Single Sign On (SSO)
    “The vSphere 5.1 SSO feature simplifies the login process for the Cloud Infrastructure Suite. You can log into the management infrastructure a single time through the vSphere Web Client or the API and be able to perform operations across all components of the Cloud Infrastructure Suite without having to log into the components separately SSO operates across all Cloud Infrastructure Suite components that support this feature.”This is a great addition. You can now use your vCenter installation as a SSO source, or you can integrate directly in to existing OpenLDAP and Active Directory sources. Scheme support is present for LDAP, LDAPS and NIS.
  • vMotion
    You can now simultaneously vMotion memory and storage. I hear you thinking that “you could do that for a while now”, and you are correct. But with vSphere 5.1, you can finally do it online. Additionally, there is no need for shared storage to perform a vMotion. This means that you can use local disks, inside of your hosts, and online migrate your virtual machines between hosts without having centralised storage, using NBD/NFC in the background. In my book, this is a great feature when working with a home lab.

Those are some pretty neat things, and there are even more out there, but there is one major change that I wanted to save. Previously, VMware announced the vSphere Web Client about a year ago (David Davis has done a nice writeup of it here), and set the tone for the future interface. Now, in vSphere 5, they made it very clear:

To use new things like the newer VM hardware version, the shared nothing vMotion, or any of the other new features, you have to use the new vSphere Web Client.

And that’s ok. The Web Client works like a charm. It did have some smaller bugs during testing, but to me proved to be quite reliable and easy to use. Plus, it allows you to search for objects from any location, adds features like custom tags that you can add to resources, and has modifications that make life easier. An example of that last point, is when you add a new datastore to a host. If you re-use the name, the Web Client will detect this, and will ask you if you would like to use the same settings, saves a bit of time.

There is one problem with this strategy though. You won’t be able to completely switch to the Web Client. For four tasks, you will still need the classic vSphere Client:

  • Import and export host profiles. You cannot import or export host profiles with the vSphere Web Client.
  • vSphere Update Manager. vSphere Update Manager isn’t available in the vSphere Web Client.
  • Datastore Browser inflate thin disk option. The Datastore Browser in the vSphere Client has an option to inflate a thin disk to a thick disk. The vSphere Web Client does not have this option. You cannot inflate a thin disk using the vSphere Web Client.
  • vSphere Authentication Proxy Server.

That might change once the final version is available for download though. Also, with the Web Client, the way that vCenter plugins work, has changed. This will mean that if you rely on any plugins for your daily operation, now is the time to contact your software/hardware vendor, and ask them if they are planning on the release of a new plugin that will work in the Web Client.

All in all?

All in all, I would say that with vSphere 5.1, the maximum configurations were aligned with what other hypervisors offer, and we again see some nice additions in functionality. A lot of folks will welcome the change in licensing policy, and all of those Mac users will welcome the fact that they can now perform their daily administration, without having to install a VM or connect to a remote desktop.

Some things aren’t entirely logical, like the fact that not all of the functionality was ported to the Web Client (yet), but I think it’s safe to say that there is more good than bad in this release. If you want to learn more about the technical side, or the rest of the VMware vCloud Suite, make sure to check every now and then, since I’ll be posting follow ups with exactly that info. In terms of the software being released, we are still waiting for an official release date, but I’ll update this posting once the date has been announced.

Update – August 31st:

The Dutch VMware Twitter account (VMware_NL) just gave me an expected release date for the vCloud Suite, and for vSphere 5.1: September 11th 2012. Keep in mind that this may change though.

Update – September 18th:
You can now actually download the release. It went live during my holiday, so I didn’t update the post. Download it from the VMware website. Also, the configuration maximums guide got released. Download it at: http://www.vmware.com/pdf/vsphere5/r51/vsphere-51-configuration-maximums.pdf.