Must-know vSphere 5.1 features for VMware admins

VMware vSphere 5.1 is a minor update, not a new vSphere version, but admins are discovering plenty of features and patches in vSphere 5.1.

VMware's vSphere 5.1 is a minor version update in name, but with changes to data backup, replication and the default interface, vSphere 5.1 features have garnered a lot of interest.

Whether you've already upgraded and want to get more from your virtual infrastructure or want to know what to expect from vSphere 5.1, this guide will introduce features like the default Web client, replication, VMware's controversial single sign-on ID authentication and more. Along with the features' specs, learn about the patches VMware issued for vSphere 5.1, which some admins say came out without proper testing.

Table of contents:

Single sign-on: Is it the hero or villain of vSphere 5.1?

VMware single sign-on (SSO) made its debut as a much-reviled vSphere 5.1 feature. SSO uses a standalone server as an authentication broker between administrators and various VMware products. It won notoriety quickly for its bugs, and VMware issued patches. Regardless of this stumble, SSO is integral to vSphere, changing the way VMware administrators manage directories. VMware now offers authentication against the corporate directory with a centralized mechanism for VMware applications to use.

Learn how vSphere 5.1 SSO breaks your dependence on Microsoft Active Director and vCenter

Are you experiencing these problems with VMware SSO?

Some claim VMware pushed 5.1 out too soon, leading to SSO and SSL patches

Do you still need Site Recovery Manager?

Many VMware admins want to replicate virtual machines (VMs), mirroring them to another location in case the primary storage fails. Before vSphere 5.1, this meant buying VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) or a third-party tool. VSphere 5.1 features a limited version of replication -- vSphere Replication -- that's missing some of SRM's features. VSphere Replication needed its own patch to fix two issues: one with installation and the other with recovering VMs at a secondary site.

Shared-nothing live migration, which is a related feature of vSphere 5.1, is part of VMware's roadmap for SRM and Replication. Shared-nothing live migration will play a role in SRM's integration with vCloud Director and disaster recovery to cloud service providers. In the 2013 vSphere update, look for more features around policy-based disaster recovery and integration between vSphere Data Recovery, VMware High Availability and SRM.

You might be able to use vSphere Replication instead of SRM

Get to know VMware's shared-nothing live migration

Fix replication problems with the vSphere 5.1 patch

Goodbye, Windows client. Hello, Web client!

Get used to working with the Web client. VMware made its Web client the default interface for vSphere in 5.1, and features new to vSphere 5.1 will not be available in the Windows-based client. VMware boasts that in the 5.1 update it improved the Web client's scalability and disaster recovery capabilities.

No more white screens of death when you use the vSphere Web client

How to install the vSphere Web client correctly

Familiarize yourself with the Web client's features

VMware Data Recovery goes into retirement

When IT pros complained about backup limitations in VMware Data Recovery (VDR), the company released vSphere Data Protection (VDP) with version 5.1. VDP communicates with VMware vStorage API for Data Protection. VDP eliminated VDR, but hasn't eliminated all of the limitations of its forerunner. It does back up only changed blocks, reducing backup time significantly.

Get answers to some common VDP questions

David Davis shares his opinion on VDP

Understand the connection between EMC and VDP

Licensing evolves with SMBs in mind

Enough with the technical features. VMware shed its virtual RAM (vRAM) licensing scheme with the release of vSphere 5.1, going back to physical CPU-based licensing. The change of heart especially benefits small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which can now license an enterprise-class vSphere installation.

IT pros cheer the end of the vRAM licensing structure

SMBs can license an enterprise-class vSphere infrastructure with 5.1