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vSphere 5 Top 10 Countdown: AutoDeploy & Image Builder at #9

Last time, I started counting down the top 10 best features of vSphere 5. VMware View Accelerator was number 10. This time, at number 9, is AutoDeploy and Image Builder. Technically, AutoDeploy and Image Builder are two distinct features, but I find that they are very complimentary to one another, so I converged them.

Let's start with Image builder, now that ESXi is the only version of the OS that is available and ESX has officially been retired, there is a lot more that goes into installing the hypervisor than was the case with ESX. ESXi has a smaller footprint and is a very thin install. As a result, drivers and software packages for the different hardware that you may be using is not baked into the image.

If you were to install the plain vanilla ESXi 5 image that you download from VMware, odds are some of your hardware will not work, such as network interface cards or Fibre Channel cards, because they don't have a corresponsing driver. Image Builder allows you to customize the ESXi install image by adding the necessary drivers, software packages and any other relevant software bits that are needed for the hardware you are deploying on. In a nutshell, Image Builder streamlines the installation of ESXi.

Now, AutoDeploy streams the installation of ESXi into the memory on the host, so you no longer need to install it on a USB drive, have it burnt on a chip on the motherboard or boot from SAN. Instead, the installation is streamed into memory. The way it works is by PXE booting a stateless host and downloading the assigned copy that is relevant to the hardware you are booting from. When a host's hardware fails, you can very easily swap that hardware for a new set of hardware, PXE boot again and in seconds you have restored that failed host back to productivity. So with AutoDeploy, the personality layer that is traditionally associated with a server is abolished, replaced by a memory-resident install of the OS that can be repeatedly downloaded to new hosts. And because ESXi has such a small footprint, it is easily loadable in memory.

By now you are probably wondering how AutoDeploy and Image Builder interconnect. Think about it this way: If you have IBM, HP and Cisco blades in your environment, you would use Image Builder to create a customized ESXi install with all the necessary components for each hardware platform. Then you'd use AutoDeploy to automatically deploy the right ESXi install to the right hardware. As a result you have streamlined your host provisioning operation and automated the process significantly, thereby getting you one step closer to true private cloud computing.

The AutoDeploy feature bears a striking resemblance to Citrix Provisioning Services. PVS is an awesome feature and I believe that the VMware community will love AutoDeploy as much as the Citrix community loves PVS.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 07/21/2011 at 12:49 PM


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