It’s no secret that I owe a large part of my IT career to virtualization. It was a combination of luck, timing and willingness to jump into the unknown that led me down the VMware path having my first workplace using VMware’s products which set the stage for every job there after seeing my experience and latching on to it with a crack-junkie like desire. Over the years then I’ve become intimately familiar with many virtualization solutions but inevitably I find myself coming back to VMware because simply put they’re the market leaders and pretty much everyone who can afford to use them does so. So you can imagine then I was somewhat excited when I saw the release of vSphere 5 and I’ve been putting it through its paces over the past couple weeks.
On the surface ESXi 5 and vSphere 5 look almost identical to their predecessors. ESXi 5 is really only distinguishable from 4 thanks to the slightly different layout and changed font, whilst vSphere 5 is exactly the same spare for some new icons and additional links to new features. I guess with any new product version I’ve just come to expect a UI revamp even if it adds nothing to the end product so the fact that VMware decided to stick with their current UI came as somewhat of a surprise but I can’t really fault them for doing so. The real meat of the vSphere 5 is under the hood and there have been some major improvements from my initial testing.
vSphere 5 brings with it Virtual Machine Version 8 which amongst the usual more CPUs/more memory upgrades brings along with it support for 3D accelerated graphics, UEFI for the BIOS (which technically means it can OSX Lion although that will never happen¹) and USB 3.0 support. There’s also a few new options available when creating a new virtual machine like the ability to add virtual sockets (not just virtual cores) and the choice between eager and lazy zeroed disks.
The one overall impression that vSphere 5 has left on me though is that it’s fast, like really fast. The UI is much more responsive, operations that used to take minutes are now done in seconds and in the few performance tests we’ve done ESXi 5 seems to be consistently faster than its 4.1 Update 1 counterpart. According to my sources close to the matter this is because ESXi 5 is all new code from the ground up, enabling them to enhance performance significantly. From my first impressions with it I’d say that they’ve succeed in doing this and I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles real production loads in the very near future.
What really amazed me was a lot of the code that I had developed for vSphere 4 was 100% compatible with vSphere 5. I had been dreading having to rewrite the near 2000 lines of code that I had developed for the build system in order to get ESXi 5 into our environment but every command worked without a hitch, showing VMware’s dedication to backwards compatibility is extremely good, approaching the king of compatibility Microsoft. Indeed those looking to migrate to vSphere 5 don’t have much to worry about as pretty much every feature of the previous version is supported, and migrating to the newer platform is quite painless.
I’ve yet to have a chance to fiddle with some of the new features (like the storage appliance, which looks incredibly cool) but overall my first impressions of vSphere 5 are quite good, along the lines of what I’ve come to expect from VMware. I haven’t yet run into major gotchas yet but I’ve only had a couple VMs running in an isolated vSphere instance so my sample size is rather limited. I’m sure once I start throwing some real applications at it I’ll start running into some more interesting problems but suffice to say that VMware has done well with this release and I can see vSphere 5 making its home in all IT departments where VMware is already deployed.
¹The stipulation for all Apple products is that they run on Apple hardware, including virtualized instances. Since the only things you can buy with OSX Server installed on them are Mac Mini Servers or Mac Pros, neither of which are on the Hardware Compatability List, running your own virtualized copies of OSX Server (legitimately) simply can’t happen. Yet I still get looks of amazement when I tell people Apple is a hardware company, figures.