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To virtualize or not to virtualize vCenter Server

VMware admins have a choice when deploying vCenter: virtual or physical. There are pros and cons to each approach, and many admins choose to do both.

Should you virtualize vCenter Server or run it on a dedicated physical server?

The debate over whether to virtualize VMware vCenter Server (formerly VMware VirtualCenter) is not new, and even virtualization proponents like VMware administrators can make the case for keeping it on a dedicated physical server. Ask a group of VMware admins how they deployed vCenter Server, as Steve Nadelle, a senior systems engineer, did in a LinkedIn discussion, and you'll get a mix of answers.

Many VMware admins with more than one vCenter production server chose to keep one vCenter deployment physical. With a dedicated vCenter server, admins can appease clients that are unsure about, or untrusting of, 100% virtualization. Some participants in the LinkedIn discussion point out that a physical deployment could be more stable and easier to work with when you're managing many hosts in a large data center.

Others suggest virtualizing vCenter, or making it into a virtual machine (VM), and pinning it to 2 to 3 ESX/ESXi hosts. Why virtualize? No single point of failure, according to Mark Liechty, a senior engineer. Virtualize vCenter and you'll know it's always protected by VMware High Availability, another person noted.

Others point to faster response times once vCenter Server is on a VM. VMware's Chethan Kumar has studied this performance metric, virtualizing a SQL Server-based vCenter database on VMware vSphere 4.1 then modeling workload activity in native and virtual environments. Execution times in the virtual environment were frequently faster than or comparable to those in native environments.

SearchVMware contributor Mike Laverick touts the admins' virtualized vCenter Server capabilities: hot-clone replication, snapshot backups and more, without the added expense and maintenance of a physical server. Fellow contributor Eric Seibert derides the complications of vCenter as a VM: difficulty locating the VM after an infrastructure failure event, potential connectivity problems with vShield and other hassles.

The overriding theme of this discussion is that there is no single correct answer to the question of whether you should virtualize vCenter. VMware supports running vCenter as a VM and installing it on a physical server. The pros and cons for each deployment are based on your particular data center configuration and VMware product suite. Share your own experience with virtualizing vCenter in the LinkedIn thread, and pick up tips from what others have done.

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