In an aggressive bid to rule the emerging software-defined data center (SDDC), VMware unveiled at VMworld today its vCloud Suite 5.1, which is aimed at extending virtualization beyond servers and storage to the network. The vCloud Suite 5.1 software bundle comprises the latest versions of vCloud Director and vSphere (and more), equipping admins with a single GUI through which they can provision and deploy virtual data center containers.
Although a mere dot-one release, vCloud Suite 5.1 adds some compelling features to help organizations realize the SDDC vision of a fully abstracted data center that doesn't care about the physical location of servers, storage gear, or networking hardware. Instead, an SDDC automatically draws from pools of disparate infrastructure resources -- whether in different racks or an entirely different data center --- to ensure application and service requirements are consistently being met.
Among vCloud Suite's most interesting features is its virtual networking capabilities (via vSphere 5.1), which represent a potentially disruptive game-changer for network admins, according to InfoWorld's Paul Venezia. "By configuring VXLANs, firewalls, and load balancers in VMware vSphere, you can create dozens of networks connecting hundreds of VMs, all without touching the switching configuration," he writes.
InfoWorld columnist Matt Prigge has highlighted some key features in the bundle, including "the ability to vMotion a virtual machine from one host's local storage to another without any downtime" in Hyper-V-like fashion. A number of new capabilities -- such as virtual machine replication, backup and recovery with data deduplication, and advanced virtual networking functions -- were previously available only from third parties. The risk here, as Prigge observes, is that VMware might be turning one-time partners into rivals as it encroaches on their territory. And InfoWorld columnist Dave Marshall notes that the vSphere component loses the unloved VRAM-based licensing change introduced a year; the "xTax" is gone as EMC reverts to its previous CPU-based license.
There's much ground to cover in VMware's announcement because it comprises so many products touching so many corners of the virtual data center. As noted, vCloud Suite 5.1 includes vSphere 5.1 and vCloud Director 5.1 -- along with the vCloud Networking and Security feature, Site Recovery Manager 5.1, vCloud APIs 5.1, vCenter Orchestrator 5.1, vFabric Application Director, and vCenter Operations Management Suite. Clearly, there's an abundance of moving parts here, and admins will have their work cut out for them as they gauge whether VMware has injected the suite with the necessary integration and intelligence for admins to keep their virtual data centers humming.
On the storage front, for example, vCloud Director builds on the storage profiles introduced in vSphere 5.0, which let users map a storage system's capabilities to a storage profile that can be used to ensure that a virtual machine or vApp is provisioned the appropriate class of storage.
With vCloud Director 5.1, cloud admins can create multiple tiers of storage in a single virtual data center. From there, admins can select which tiers will be available to which users or for which services. A vApp author building a three-tier application could, for example, choose to provide gold-tier storage to a database while providing silver-tier storage for the Web and middleware. Storage profiles are integrated with vSphere Storage vMotion as well as vSphere Storage DRS, which enables the automatic relocation of workloads to storage profiles based on their requirements.
vSphere 5.1, meanwhile, expands the maximum number of hosts that can share a read-only file on a virtual machine file from eight to 32. This means that linked clones deployed from a base image can now be hosted on any one of the 32 hosts sharing the datastore, according to VMware, thereby boosting scalability. This feature applies only to hosts running vSphere 5.1 and higher on VMFS-5.
What's more, vSphere 5.1 introduces a new virtual disk type called the space-efficient spare virtual disk, which can reclaim previously used space in the guest OS. The space-efficient spare disk feature lets admins set granular VM disk block allocation sizes to suit an application's particular requirements. However, this initial release of the feature in vSphere 5.1 will be limited to use with a forthcoming version of VMware View.
Also new to vSphere is a vSphere Replication feature, which offers the ability to continually replicate a running VM to another location. The feature can make copies of VMs that can be stored locally or offsite, thus making it faster to restore a VM, VMware says. In a related vein, vCloud Director lets users take snapshots of either single VMs or entire vApps, simplifying scenarios where it's necessary to revert to a previous configuration.
Also noteworthy: VMware has built on the Elastic Virtual data center concept introduced in vCloud Director 1.5, a cornerstone to the pay-as-you-go resource-allocation model. With Version 5.1, VMware has expanded that to entire resource pools, letting admins create entire containers that grow automatically to meet users' workload demands. If a particular department or data center tenant needed additional storage or processing power, it would need only to submit the request, and vCloud Director would find the most suitable resources.
The inherently porous nature of the cloud has been a sticking point for security-minded IT admins. VMware is trying to address at least some of those worries with the addition of several new security features in vCloud Director. Among them is a new single sign-on capability, which lets admins create and enforce standardized access control policies, audit for compliance, and manage access through a central location. In addition, vCloud Director 5.1 integrates with various third-party access control and single sign-on mechanisms, according to VMware, including Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) and OpenSSO.
All of these features -- along with those covered by my colleagues -- are but the tip of the VMware Cloud Suite iceberg, and it's certainly not the last we'll hear about the software-defined data center this week at VMworld.
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