VMware partners line up for vSphere launch

The speaker list for the launch of VMware's vSphere "cloud operating system" on Tuesday shows how important the company's virtualization software has become to the world of IT: Michael Dell, Cisco's John Chambers, EMC's Joe Tucci and Intel's Pat Gelsinger are all expected to attend the event at VMware's headquarters, along with VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz.

Cisco was among the first partners to support VMware's efforts to expand its role in the data center, with its Nexus 1000V "virtual switch." Intel has long been a core VMware partner, and Dell hopes to position its industry-standard servers as core building blocks for virtualized environments. All of the visiting executives are CEOs except for Gelsinger, who is senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

Some of the partners, including EMC, Unisys and Hewlett-Packard, will have some actual news on Tuesday.

EMC, which owns part of VMware, will introduce PowerPath/VE, the first version of its path management system that integrates with a virtualized environment.

PowerPath, which has been available for more than 10 years, finds the best I/O path for bits traveling between an application and the storage resource it is using. It can shift the stream of bits from one path to another if any component fails, or balance the load of several alternate paths for the best overall performance. PowerPath/VE can do that for virtual machines as well as for physical servers, identifying the best virtual path within a data center where computing and storage are distributed across many hardware systems.

PowerPath/VE can monitor conditions all along a path, from the application on the virtual machine to the storage system, said Colin Bailey, director of platforms marketing. Because it has more advanced load-balancing algorithms and other features, PowerPath/VE delivers higher performance than native path management systems and other competing products, he said. A given system can achieve as much as 25 percent more IOPS (I/O operations per second) with the product, according to EMC.

The new product is fully integrated and qualified with vSphere, Bailey said. With VMware, if a virtual machine is moved from one physical server to another, PowerPath/VE will be able to find the optimal path for it and establish the new path. The selection and setup of new paths happens automatically, allowing administrators to "set it and forget it," he said.

The same PowerPath/VE software can be used for path management on non-virtualized parts of a company's data center, with one console to manage it all, according to EMC. At the same time, PowerPath/VE also supports Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization system, Bailey said. PowerPath/VE will be available in June. Tiered pricing will begin at US$2,100 for one server and unlimited virtual machines on that server.

Unisys said the vSphere software announced Tuesday will allow its customers to virtualize bigger servers, with more CPUs, making it easier for them to run large databases and Exchange servers, for example, in a virtualized environment.

"We offer a 16-socket server that scales to 96 cores, but in terms of virtualization we've always been limited by the hypervisor capability," said Rod Sapp, director of marketing for Unisys' enterprise servers.

VSphere starts to lift those limits, he said. The new software will be able to manage up to 64 processor cores in a single server, up from 32 with VMware's current software, Virtual Infrastructure 3. VSphere can also support more virtual machines per host OS -- 256 versus 170 before -- and supports faster I/O rates and more memory per virtual machine.

VMware's software is used most widely today on two- and four-processor machines, often clustered together in a "scale out" model. "The new VMware release lifts the ceiling in terms of scale-up capability," Sapp said.

That's good for Unisys, which is one of the few vendors that sell very large "scale-up" x86 systems. But it could also be good for customers, according to Unisys. Virtualizing a single, large system carries less management and power overhead than managing a cluster of smaller x86 servers, Sapp said.

Some customers prefer to run large databases on a single, large system for performance and reliability reasons, said Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group. In the past, customers have been reluctant to run mission critical applications in virtualized environments, but that has started to change, he said.

Unisys also launched new servers Tuesday based on Intel's Nehalem processors, and said it will offer vSphere as an option on all of them. They include 1U and 2U ES3000 rackmount systems, a 5U ES3000 tower system, and a new ES5000 blade system, Unisys said. They are all two-socket systems - the maximum currently supported by the new Intel chips.

HP will be at the event to talk up its BladeSystem Matrix, a converged software, server, storage and networking platform that was announced on Monday and is designed to compete against Cisco's Unified Computing System. HP is expected to explain Tuesday how vSphere fits into the Matrix system.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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