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VMware vSphere 6.5, VSAN among hottest topics in 2016

Upgrades gave a boost to a lot of VMware's existing products, like vSphere and VSAN, and helped erase some doubt from early on in the year.

Another year has come and gone in the technology world, and it was a pretty eventful one for some of VMware's flagship products. Obviously, the closing of the Dell-EMC deal in September 2016 garnered a lot of attention, but there was plenty more happening for the software company.

There was a lot of news across VMware's major products, including updates to Workstation and Fusion as well as a new version of vSphere. VMware really put a lot of focus on NSX and made that clear with the announcements of VMware Cloud Foundation and Cross-Cloud Architecture.

VMware vSphere 6.5 brought some welcome changes, such as the HTML5 client and a new version of Virtual Volumes. VRealize Log Insight debuted new features while Photon Platform and its three parts drew interest from users.

Here's a look at the most talked about and influential products related to VMware in 2016.


Rumblings started early in the year that vSphere 6.5 would be the next version of VMware's flagship software. The rumblings were right about the 6.5 version number, but VMware didn't roll it out until VMworld Europe.

Revenue for vSphere has dipped over the past year, leading some to believe that VMware's growth has stunted. The company has focused heavily on its flagship product for a long time, so the consistent revenue drop concerned some.

However, since VMware vSphere 6.5 was released, the new features prove that VMware is dedicated to its flagship product, despite the recent drop in revenue. VMware added a vCenter failover function as well as a two-node failover cluster for the vCenter Server Appliance. Users also welcomed unexpected changes to High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler.

VMware Virtual SAN

VMware updated Virtual SAN (VSAN), one of its major products, twice in the past calendar year. VSAN 6.2 debuted in the early part of the year while VSAN 6.5 was announced at VMworld Europe.

VSAN 6.2 helped move the product to the forefront of the software-defined storage and hyper-converged markets. While other features in this VSAN 6.2 helped VMware get on the same level as some of the competition VSAN 6.5 continued the push by making it easier to use in remote locations and use in all-flash nodes.

Those new features expanded the market and made it a viable option for a new set of workloads. Instead of a three node requirement, VSAN 6.5 can be enabled in remote locations without requiring a 10 gigabit Ethernet connection. There were some issues though. Despite saying there would be at VMworld 2016 U.S., VMware did not include encryption for data that is at rest or cloud-based analytics in VSAN 6.5.

VSphere Integrated Containers

Although VMware was a little late to the container party, the company has taken steps to catch up. VMware moved vSphere Integrated Containers away from a completely Docker-centric approach, partly because of constant changes on Docker's end that caused integration issues. VIC became generally available at the end of 2016.

Two new features announced at VMworld 2016 US -- Admiral and Harbor -- gave vSphere Integrated Containers a boost. Admiral is a web interface to manage containers, much like Docker Universal Control Plane. Harbor is a private container registry that provides a safe place for users to keep container images, similar to the Docker Trusted Registry.

Virtual Volumes

There was a lot to digest when vSphere 6.5 finally debuted at VMworld Europe, including a handful of new features. One announcement that went somewhat under the radar was Virtual Volumes 2.0 (VVOLs).

VVOLs allow admins to apply storage policies to virtual machines to define performance and service-level agreements like replication and deduplication.

The biggest takeaway regarding VVOLs 2.0 is the native support for array-based replication. This feature was missing in the first version of the product and many users were excited to see it included in this update. The feature enables admins to replicate VMs on an individual basis or as a group.

The best of the rest

Workstation and Fusion both received an upgrade in 2016. Workstation is one of VMware's oldest products while Fusion is closing in on its 10 year anniversary. Workstation Pro 12 offers new integration options with enterprise VMware products, such as vCloud Air and vSphere, that make it comparable to cheaper and free offerings.

Pieces of Photon Platform have been available as open source projects for over a year -- Photon Platform 1.0 became available in September 2016. One part of Photon Platform is Photon Controller, which acts as the control plane for managing the servers running containers. Photon Controller, along with Photon Operating System and Photon Machine, could make Photon Platform a key player as VMware advances in the container game.

Terms to keep an eye on in 2017

While there was a lot of noise for some of VMware's flagship products in 2016, we expect 2017 to focus on some of the company's newer technologies. VMware announced Cloud Foundation and Cross-Cloud Architecture at VMworld 2016 U.S. and could be major players in 2017.

One other term to remember for next year is VMware Cloud on AWS. The two companies partnered to enable vSphere workloads to run natively on AWS hardware. It will be interesting to see how this partnership works and if either side benefits more than the other.

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