VMware vSphere 5

If you hadn’t noticed, VMware announced vSphere 5 on 7/12.  The announcement was well handled and I enjoyed watching the first hour.  The follow-up sessions weren’t working in my browser, so I wasn’t able to attend any of those, but I ended up spending a lot of time on Twitter and VMware’s sites looking into the new features and licenses.

There are two main topics I want to cover.  First I’ll cover the new licensing scheme for vSphere 5, which has become a very hot topic of criticism for VMware.  Then I’ll talk about some of the new features of this release.


As part of the upgrade to vSphere5, customers will need to figure out a new licensing scheme.  A change in the licensing shouldn’t come as a surprise, since core and processor speeds have taken out a major chunk of VMware’s revenue stream from their core product, not to mention VMware’s history of changing licensing with every release.

The new scheme continues the tradition of one license per socket, but now allows for unlimited cores in every edition and a new memory cap.  It’s a lot more complicated than that though.  The cap is not for the amount of physical RAM in the host, but it’s a cap on a new construct they call vRAM.  vRAM is the amount of RAM assigned collectively to the virtual machines.  The licenses will combine their vRAM caps at the vCenter level (or multiple vCenters when using Linked Mode) to create a pool that all VMs in the infrastructure can pull from.  One caveat is that different editions of vSphere (Standard, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus) will create different pools.  When architecting infrastructures, you’ll need to now consider not only the number of sockets in all the hosts, but also the total amount of RAM utilized by all the VMs.

The vRAM caps layout like this:

Essentials, Essentials Plus & Standard – 24GB
Enterprise – 32GB
Enterprise Plus – 48GB

This cap ignited a fire storm on twitter, blogs, email lists and even the private vExpert forum over at the VMware Communities. The root of this storm is what appears to be an increase in licensing for larger environments.

I’m guilty of contributing to this storm.  But as a good community member, I wanted to back up my comments, so I started contacting my customers to get a handle on what the licensing changes will mean to them.  Based on my results, this will be problem for larger environments, but many of my customers don’t fall into this category.  Working with real world numbers and theoretical numbers it looks like the vRAM cap based licensing will increase environments using 196GB or greater per host, environments with a large cluster of 128GB or greater per host or environments heavily overcommitted.  Of the customers I’ve pinged, only one of them is affected.  But I do have customers that are building clusters right now with hosts of 196GB, and this will be a concern for them.

My concerns with this change have lessened, but have not been eliminated.  The advantages of scaling up the hosts (the exact solution Cisco is betting on for UCS extended memory servers) has less advantage that it did in vSphere 4. The costs may still make sense to scale up a smaller number of hosts as opposed to buying additional hosts for a scale out solution, but those costs are way to variable for me to swing at right now.  The burden on partners like myself will be greater now to architect the number of hosts/CPUs and VMware licenses to create the cheapest solution based on the known facts.  In some cases, it may actually make sense to upgrade to Enterprise Plus to gain the higher vRAM cap. It is also a good push to minimize the RAM each VM is allocated.  If you’re worried about having to buy additional licenses, I’d start my reducing the RAM allocation of your VMs first (VMware will happily talk to you about CapacityIQ).  An interesting new PowerShell script has been created to help analyze your situation.  Finally, don’t be surprised if us partners become more pushy to do a capacity plan before making recommendations. 🙂

VMware is clearly making a push to more of a cloud mentality for it’s licensing (“utility” computing in VMware’s words).  I just don’t think VMware’s general customers are ready to manage their envrionment in that way.  I honestly don’t have many issues with licensing this way, but it’s hard to wrap your mind around it and the vRAM caps are most definitely too low.  It also completely underminds the overcommitment advantages VMware has touted as one of their biggest advantages over the “good enough” club (Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer).

My final thought on licensing (for this post at least) is to point out one big irony.  Back when vSphere 4 was released, a firestorm was created due to VMware’s planned elimination of the Enterprise tier.  They introduced the Advanced tier, but it wasn’t enough to justify the huge jump in cost/features that Enterprise filled.  Customers and partners both screamed and convinced VMware to keep the Enterprise tier.  The irony: Advanced has been removed in vSphere 5 and those licenses will be converted to Enterprise.


New Features

Now for the good news:  vSphere 5 introduces a ton of great new features (another expectation we have from VMware during each major release).  Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites:

  • A vSphere Desktop edition – This was quietly added on the partner SKU list for non-View VDI implementations.  This provides a low cost hypervisor for XenDesktop implementations (a fairly common occurance).
  • Storage DRS – Provides IOPS latency and disk space balancing across a grouping of datastores.
  • vCenter Server Applicance – The long awaited Linux based vCenter Server.  It is delivered as an OVF and can quickly be brought online using an embedded database or an external DB2 or Oracle database.  It can also be integrated into AD.  It’s not 100% feature parity with the Windows install, but a much welcomed step in the right direction.
  • vSphere web client – Ability to access vSphere functionality from a web browser without installing the full vSphere client.  Though it is not 100% feature parity with the .NET vSphere client, it will be a great alternative when needing to complete a quick task while at a machine that doesn’t have the client already installed.
  • HA rewrite – Changes have been made to the HA product that eliminates the traditional primary/secondary issues.  They have also made enhancements to improve reliability and easier setup.
  • Auto Deploy – Using PXE, you can boot your hosts across the network and apply configurations and host profiles to customize the host.
  • VMFS 5 – A non-impactive upgrade (remember VMFS2->VMFS3?) will provide improved performance.  You can also create VMFS volumes greater than 2TB – 512 bytes.
  • VM version 8 -The latest version of the VM hardware adds USB 3.0 and 3D graphics support.
  • VAAI Thin Provisioning – More closely integrates thin provisioning to the array itself.