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Volume 3, Number 21 -- June 8, 2006

VMware Offers New Packaging and Pricing with ESX Server 3

Published: June 8, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

VMware, the virtual infrastructure software subsidiary of disk array maker EMC, this week launched its much-awaited ESX Server 3 virtual machine hypervisor for X86 and X64 servers as well as a new way of packaging the software and its various add-ons. And, because the open source Xen hypervisor, created by XenSource, is gaining steam in the Linux markets and Microsoft is giving away its Virtual Server 2005 partitioning software, the new ESX Server software also includes some price changes, too.

VMware's flagship server product is ESX Server, which went into its third commercial version this week. When the original ESX Server was launched in 2001, it was the first true bare-metal hypervisor for the X86 architecture. While GSX Server, which is now called simply VMware Server, allowed multiple guest virtual machines, each supporting an operating system, to be run inside a host operating system, ESX Server ran guests on a separate hypervisor layer that allowed virtual machines and their operating systems to be isolated from each other. This is how mainframes and Unix boxes do virtualization, and the isolation ESX Server provided and the sophisticated tools that VMware created to manage virtual machines is what has made ESX Server the dominant product among enterprises that are deploying virtual servers on X86 and now X64 architectures. But, there is always room for improvement, and competition engenders both feature and price competition. This is why ESX Server 3 and the related Infrastructure 3 stack of tools probably are the most important announcements VMware has made in years. By making ESX Server more flexible and affordable, the company stands a good chance of significantly increasing the adoption of its ESX Server software, which has an estimated 20,000 customers managing perhaps 200,000 or so virtual servers.

The core of VMware's announcement is the new ESX Server 3, which the company previewed last fall. ESX Server 3 has some key new features, including support for 64-bit guest operating systems, which was already in the GSX Server and VMware Server products. The maximum main memory that a virtual machine inside ESX Server can address has consequently been boosted from 4 GB to 16 GB.

ESX Server 3 also has VirtualSMP support that spans four processor cores, up from two cores in the prior ESX Server 2 product. It took VMware two years to offer the two-way SMP support that allowed a virtual machine to span two processors, and this four-way SMP capability was previewed in the fall of 2004 and has taken about as long to come to market. The SMP capability is based on processor elements, so on a two-socket server using dual-core chips, a VirtualSMP can only span those two sockets; on a four-socket machine using single-core chips, VirtualSMP can span the whole machine. VMware has not said when it would expand beyond four cores to eight or more, but that would probably be useful. It is unclear if the hardware-assisted virtualization features of Intel's Core and AMD's forthcoming "RevF" Opterons will make ESX Server virtual machine partitions more easily scale across a larger number of processor cores.

ESX Server 3 has a number of other new features, such as support for iSCSI links to network-attached storage (NAS) arrays. ESX Server 2 had support for storage area networks (SANs) linked to virtual machines via Fibre Channel links. ESX Server 3 also supports 32-bit Solaris 10 guest operating systems, and Raghu Raghuram, senior director of strategy and market development at VMware, says that support for 64-bit Solaris 10 guests will be production ready in one or two months. With the Solaris support, ESX Server now supports 30 different flavors of operating systems (Windows, Linux, and NetWare are the main ones) and over 200 different server configurations. ESX Server 3 also has hooks into the power management features of server hardware, such as Intel's SpeedStep and AMD's PowerNow features for their processors. Just like an operating system, VMware's hypervisors have to be equipped with interfaces into these power management features, and then they have to be able to interface into the guest operating systems as well. The software also includes better support for VLAN tagging, which allows for more sophisticated traffic-shaping to virtual machines that share the same physical LAN adapters.

With ESX Server 3, the VM File System that underlies the hypervisor is being broken out as a separate product. In a virtual machine, the virtual hard drive that a VM has access to is really just a single file on a physical hard drive. VMFS is what has allowed administrators to manage that virtual hard drive. With VMFS 3, Raghuram says this software has been converted to a true distributed file system, which will allow multiple VMs to share files and multiple physical storage arrays (whether they are NAS or SAN units) to serve up virtual machines as a single, virtualized storage infrastructure. "This software does a lot of what people these days call storage virtualization," explains Raghuram. And, you can see why an acquisition of VMware by EMC was a good idea. While VMFS is embedded in ESX Server, it is a separately licensed product with the new Infrastructure 3 packaging.

The VirtualCenter systems management program that is the administration console for ESX Server has also been updated with Version 2. With VirtualCenter 2, the software could manage a few hundred ESX Server hosts and a few thousand virtual machines; with VirtualCenter 3, VMware has tripled the scalability of the tool. Moreover, VirtualCenter 3 cannot only manage the virtual machines inside an ESX Server instance, but it can now also manage the settings and configuration of the ESX Server hypervisors themselves.

With the Infrastructure 3 packaging, VMware is girding its loins to do battle with XenSource and Microsoft. VMware Server is the freebie product, which allows companies to create virtual machines inside an operating system running on a single machine. VMware Server is still in beta, and Raghuram would not say when it would be production ready. If you want more sophisticated and isolated server virtualization, then you buy what VMware is calling Infrastructure Starter 3, which includes the ESX Server 3 hypervisor and the VirtualCenter 2 management console. This now costs $1,000 per two-socket server, which is a big price break when you consider that VMware was charging $3,750 for ESX Server 2 and $600 for VirtualCenter 1. If you want to be able to use NAS and SAN disk storage and create virtual machines that span multiple cores, you buy what VMware calls Infrastructure Standard; this includes ESX Server 3, VirtualCenter 2, VirtualSMP, and VMFS 3, and it costs $3,750 for a two-socket machine. Prior to this repacking, this stack of software cost $5,150 on a two-socket machine. (VMware is core-neutral in its pricing, at least for dual-core processors. It only charges by the server processor socket.)

The top-of-the-line product from VMware is now called Infrastructure Enterprise, and it includes all of this software plus the popular VMotion VM teleportation software, which allows a working VM and its applications to be moved from one physical machine to another while running (provided the servers are linked to SAN, and now NAS, storage). The Infrastructure Enterprise software also includes some new features. The most important one is the Distributed Resource Scheduler, which aggregates hardware capacity in the network of machines running ESX Server into a pool of capacity and automatically moves VMs to machines that can support changing workloads. Another new feature called VMware HA can restart failed partitions on a new machine when they fail on another one. And VMware Consolidated Backup allows the archiving of data and applications running in virtual machines to be offloaded to a dedicated backup server. As you can imagine, installing a tape backup agent on each virtual machine and running a tape backup from each virtual machine would be a very time-consuming task. Infrastructure Enterprise costs $5,750 for a two-socket server, which is a $600 premium compared to the prior ESX Server stack. However, this new stack has a lot of new functionality.

The new ESX Server 3 and Infrastructure 3 bundles will be available in mid-to-late June.


RELATED STORIES

VMware Gives Away Updated GSX Server for Free

VMware Boosts VM Scalability with ESX Server 3

VMware Previews Expanded SMP Capability for Partitions

VMware Readies Virtual Machines Spanning Two CPUs



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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
Shannon O'Donnell, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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