vSphere 4.1

Just a year after introducing vSphere 4.0, which ushered in dramatic performance gains and increases in configuration maximums, vSphere 4.1 is now available. Once again, the performance gains and increased configuration maximums are big. These are the kind of gains rarely seen in a major release, let alone a minor rev update.

Another notable piece of information about vSphere 4.1…it will be the last release to feature the ESX product. ESXi has long been hailed as the successor to the vSphere throne, and now they have set a date. Well, not a date, but a marker. The next release of vSphere, likely in 2011, will only include the ESXi product. For all of those vendors still relying on the CLI of ESX, wake up and smell the vMA coffee.

A few highlights in the many vSphere 4.1 improvements are:

  • 3x increase in VMs per host
  • 2x to 4x increase in concurrent vMotions (no longer VMotion as of 4.1)
  • Improvements in the scalability of Linked Mode (I LOVE this feature in vSphere)
  • Added Memory Compression to provide further gains in efficient memory utilization
  • DRS VM Host affinity rules (more on this below)
  • Active Directory integration on the ESX/ESXi Host
  • Multiple vCPU per virtual socket (think of vCPUs as cores in a virtual multi-core proc)
  • Host Profiles can now roll out password changes (host profiles are right up there with Linked Mode for me, great new feature in vSphere)
  • Fault Tolerance (FT) was made a little more forgiving in handling patch level mismatches
  • Network I/O control to group and manage NIC bandwidth by traffic types (VM, vMotion, FT, etc)
  • Load-Based Teaming for vNetwork Distributed Switches, to keep the load balanced across all physical adapters (vDS is probably my favorite new vSphere feature)
  • Hardware Acceleration with vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI – more on this below).
  • ESXi can be deployed via a new scripted install feature (as a long time Unix/Linux admin, I really like this…but I did not have the time to test it in the beta)

DRS VM host affinity rules are something I was very excited to see in the beta. As I have been implementing vSphere and designing a private cloud environment, a lot of effort has gone into the right methods for determining cluster groupings. Licensing is always a pain point in these discussions. I lose efficiency in creating a two small licensing-driven clusters for applications A and B, while maintaining N+1 within both clusters. If I could create one larger cluster, forcing the appropriate VMs to remain on their licensed group of hosts, I gain efficiency in the N+1 capacity if nothing else. There is also ease of management and a number of other advantages to this.

Now, throw into the mix that application A never allows the instances to run on unlicensed hardware, but application B will allow the instances to temporarily run on unlicensed servers in the event of a hardware failure. The new affinity rules will allow you to state that group A can never run anywhere else, while stating that group B can run somewhere else in an HA event. Now this feature becomes even more valuable.

Another new feature worth dedicating a few lines to is the VAAI. This will allow vSphere 4.1 to offload specific storage operations to compliant storage hardware. Why make vSphere use the less efficient “this copy command will work anywhere” approach for Storage vMotion when NetApp or EMC already have specialized commands on their arrays for these functions and know the most efficient way to carry out the task. This is a true win-win partnership with the storage vendors and one that can yield significant performance gains in your environment. Look for the major storage vendors to all be announcing their support for this within days, not weeks.

Finally, I will part with a list of KB articles passed on to me from our friendly neighborhood Technical Account Manager at VMware. Carl Olafson has always been quick to share information with me at my work, and this particular list is all public info. That being the case, I will pass it on to you:

  1. KB Article: 1022842 – Changes to DRS in vSphere 4.1
  2. KB Article: 1022290 – USB support for ESX/ESXi 4.1
  3. KB Article: 1022263 – Deploying ESXi 4.1 using the Scripted Install feature
  4. KB Article: 1021953 – I/O Statistics in vSphere 4.1
  5. KB Article: 1022851 – Changes to vMotion in vSphere 4.1
  6. KB Article: 1022104 – Upgrading to ESX 4.1 and vCenter Server 4.1 best practices
  7. KB Article: 1023118 – Changes to VMware Support Options in vSphere 4.1
  8. KB Article: 1021970 – Overview of Active Directory integration in ESX 4.1 and ESXi 4.1
  9. KB Article: 1021769 – Configuring IPv6 with ESX and ESXi 4.1
  10. KB Article: 1022844 – Changes to Fault Tolerance in vSphere 4.1
  11. KB Article: 1023990 – VMware ESX and ESXi 4.1 Comparison
  12. KB Article: 1022289 – Changing the number of virtual CPUs per virtual socket in ESX/ESXi 4.1

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