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VMware ESX Server 3.5

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Networking is still more complex than it perhaps needs to be, with service consoles, VMkernel interfaces, multiple default routes, and so on. It would be nice to see a consolidation of sorts there, with clearer definitions of networking functions and certainly clearer interpretations of commonly used networking terms. Configuring EtherChannel NIC bonding requires navigating a labyrinth of dialog boxes that becomes tiresome very quickly, although the addition of CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) support in ESX 3.5 goes a long way toward untying some knots by making it far simpler to identify connected switch ports on each ESX host, provided you're using CDP-compliant switches. In some instances, though, this new feature turned up blank even when connected to a Cisco 6509 with CDP enabled. Speaking of networking, one of the more welcome hardware support updates is for selected 10-gigabit cards from Neterion and NetXen.

There are more new features to be found in ESX 3.5, such as IPv6 support for VMs, increases to host logical CPU counts and RAM counts (32 CPUs and 256GB, respectively), and support for as much as 64GB of RAM per VM. VirtualCenter 2.5 is more scalable as well, able to manage as many as 200 ESX hosts and 2,000 VMs. Another welcome improvement to VirtualCenter: VM client tool installations can now be automated on both Linux and Windows, thank you.

Tangentially related to the VI3 upgrade is the rather confusingly named V3i embedded hypervisor. This is likely to be the look of VM hosts in the not-too-distant future. An embedded hypervisor will remove the need for hard drives and harden the overall architecture. V3i is first-generation code, and probably only worthy of testing for the moment but promises much in terms of the future of virtualisation. For instance, we will probably start seeing diskless servers from major vendors pre-loaded with V3i on bootable internal flash drives. Removing hard drive support of any kind in these servers promises to shrink their overall footprint and reduce the size of power supplies and server power consumption. You won't see this in the near term future, obviously, but it doesn't seem that far-fetched.

Overall, VMware's ESX 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 release represents a logical next step, a necessary evolution of the flagship product. It brings some significant features to the table, and the nature of the VI3 licensing model coupled with the ease of upgrading will lure most users to upgrade quickly.

The next step for VMware is harder: deeper, hypervisor-level integration with third-party solutions to handle things like network packet inspection and application filtering and virus scanning at the instruction level. Also, considering VirtualCenter's new plug-in architecture and VMware's recent acquisition of Thinstall, the next version of VMware Infrastructure may leverage virtualised application delivery, which will have a significant impact on VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). For example, instead of installing Microsoft Office into hundreds or thousands of Windows XP VMs, those applications could potentially be delivered to those VMs as needed, significantly reducing the storage requirements, the backup costs, and so on down the line.

VMware certainly has the most mature, stable, and expensive x86 virtualisation product the world has ever seen. But there's lots more to be done, and many more bridges to be crossed. This is still just the very beginning.



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