What's New in VMware vSphere and vCenter 5.1

There's usually little enthusiasm for .1 releases. But this point release is not to be ignored, as it's packed with some important features.

There's usually little enthusiasm when a software company releases a minor version update to its flagship product, because it's always expected that "star" features will be withheld for major version releases. This is not the case with VMware. It seems the company insists on making the point that innovation is the norm and part of its DNA, and that every version -- minor or major -- will be packed with important features.

VMware vSphere and vCenter 5.1 are most definitely jam-packed with features and innovations. Let's explore the most important ones.

vSphere Platform
First up, let's take a look at what's new in the vSphere platform. Most notable here is the very welcome integration of VMware vShield Endpoint, which is now bundled within the hypervisor. This is a huge value-add that could offer significant scalability enhancements by leveraging agentless antivirus and anti-malware, and offloading that out of the VM and onto host-based virtual appliances. The savings here lie in fewer storage requirements and the avoidance of antivirus scan storms and bulk definition updates.

The features keep coming. Another popular one is Enhanced vMotion, which enables live migration of VMs between hosts without the need for shared storage. Of course, no new hypervisor update would be complete without support for the latest guest OSes, primarily from Microsoft. In this case, vSphere 5.1 extends support for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.

VM Enhancements
The VM enhancements are also numerous, most notably with the new and very cool hardware-accelerated 3D graphics support. This is a platform enhancement intended for VMware View and aimed at VMs that require heavy graphics-intensive applications leveraging vGPU technology, and offloading specific processes to the hardware GPU on the host. This effort is in collaboration with NVIDIA and only a limited number of GPU models are supported. It's worth noting that while this feature is now available in vSphere 5.1, as of this writing VMware View can't take advantage of it.

VM hardware also receives a boost with the new version 9, which unlocks more powerful virtual hardware capabilities such as 64 vCPU and 1TB of RAM per VM -- pretty impressive for those monster workloads.

vSphere Replication
This is an attractive addition to vSphere 5.1 that allows host-based VM replication, a feature previously made available with VMware Site Recovery Manager 5.0, and now available at the hypervisor level for customers with Essentials Plus licensing or higher. Small businesses will find this a welcome feature that saves on array- or software-based replication that they previously had to purchase. Large enterprises might find value in expanding virtualization to branch offices with the ability to implement some form of disaster recovery.

vSphere Data Protection
A newcomer to the vSphere 5.1 product is vSphere Data Protection. This joint collaboration with EMC is based on Avamare and provides for backup and de-duplication capabilities leveraging vSphere APIs for Data Protection. This serves as a replacement to the vSphere disaster recovery appliance, but also throws VMware into the competitive space of virtual backup and recovery solutions.

vSphere Web Client
While vSphere 5.1 has many new or enhanced features, if I were to rank the one that steals the spotlight, it would without a doubt be the vSphere Web Client, a framework for the future that allows administrators ready access to information, and delivers a more robust and flexible platform for expanded development.

About the Author

Elias Khnaser, Chief Technology Officer for Sigma Solutions, is an internationally renowned expert and thought leader in the areas of IT transformation, enterprise consumerization, virtualization and cloud computing. He is well-published, authoring and co-authoring six books, numerous training DVDs and hundreds of articles. He's a blogger and columnist, writing for Virtualization Review Magazine, InformationWeek and Forbes. He's also a frequent speaker at leading technology conferences. Elias is responsible for the technical vision at Sigma, identifying trends, innovating and developing strategies for keeping the company on the cutting edge of solutions delivery. He is also a customer-facing executive, advising clients on IT transformation, development of IT roadmaps, enterprise consumerization strategies, virtualization and cloud computing.

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