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VMware aims to deliver quality and value in vSphere 6.5

A few months prior to VMworld 2016 U.S., we produced a wish list for vSphere 6.5 features. Now that VMware's officially announced vSphere 6.5, does it meet expectations?

Back in June, I wrote about the features I wanted to see in vSphere 6.5 in the hopes that a new version of VMware's flagship software would be announced at VMworld 2016 U.S. Unfortunately, no such announcement came out of VMworld U.S. Instead, VMware announced a new version of vSphere at VMworld 2016 Europe, and with it, a number of new features. So, did VMware deliver on the things I asked for?

What's new in vSphere 6.5?

In my original article, I asked for scale-out vCenter; instead, VMware gave us a vCenter failover function. I also asked for a cluster of vCenter servers that would distribute the between servers, and I wanted the cluster to provide instant failover if one node experienced a problem. It was a pretty big request, so I'm not entirely surprised that I didn't get what I wanted. What we did get is a two node failover cluster for the vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) in which one node is active while the other is on standby.

If the active node has a fault, then the standby node takes over its identity and starts the vCenter services. According to VMware, failover will take a few minutes, about the same amount of time the vSphere High Availability (HA) cluster would take to recover a failed VM. This two node failover cluster is essentially a replacement for the old vCenter Server Heartbeat product and, as far as I can tell, nothing more. It's a start, but not exactly what I wished for in the new release.

I expressed a desire for VMware Update Manager (VUM) to be integrated into vCSA and, in this case, VMware delivered. This means there's no need for an additional Windows server and database; everything is built into one appliance. This feature is long is overdue, one we have been waiting for since vCSA was first released. The delay has only made it more welcome in vSphere 6.5. The new vCSA HA and integrated VUM are signs that VMware is committed to vCSA and that the company is very serious about moving customers off Windows vCenter to vCSA.

When writing my vSphere 6.5 wish list, I also asked for a better quality product. Of course, we won't be able to judge the quality of vSphere 6.5 until it's been in the hands of users for a few months. As of right now, there is no firm commitment on a ship date for any of the products announced at either VMworld U.S. or Europe. VMware will likely deliver the new version of vSphere within the next few months.

A few pleasant surprises

VMware added a number of features to vSphere 6.5 that I didn't have on my wish list, but I know will please many users. First, there are subtle changes to vSphere HA and Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), including a simplified user interface for setting failover resources, one which is more focused on your desired level of HA. VMware is giving users the option to have DRS spread VMs across a cluster to prevent all of your VMs from ending up on one host, which would make that host an availability risk.

VMware has also added the ability to have the physical server health information trigger HA to move VMs around. This requires HA to use vMotion to migrate VMs before they experience an outage. HA never used vMotion in prior versions of vSphere, so this is a philosophical change. I imagine many customers in banking will consider these features a welcome change, their clusters are lightly loaded, but the VMs on those clusters are very important. In vSphere 6.5, DRS also gains the ability to use trend information from vRealize Operations Manager (vROps) to predict workload changes, then migrate VMs before their resource requirements increase. This integration between vROps and vCenter is extremely appealing, as closing the loop from monitoring to predictive action is crucial as environments grow.

Another nice new feature is the HTML5 Web Client, now named the vSphere Client. I hope this new vSphere Client will quickly replace the Web Client as its features expand. The Web Client relies on Adobe Flash, with all the security issues and updates that Flash brings. The new vSphere Client simply needs an HTML5 browser, no plugins, and it works from many different browsers and OSes. Reports indicate that the HTML5 Web Client is much more responsive than the Web Client, too. While we're on the subject of web services on vCenter, there is now a Representational State Transfer application programming interface (API) for a lot of operational tasks. This won't help most operations teams, but service providers will love the ability to drive vSphere from an API. Many service providers have depended on vCloud Director (vCD) to access this API-driven approach, but having the API on vCenter may remove the need for vCD, which I think is VMware's intention.

Not all of the new features included in vSphere 6.5 are headliners like they were in earlier versions of vSphere, but this is a sign of a mature product. VSphere already covers a lot of what customers want from a virtualization platform. Instead, these smaller features aim to deliver extra value to more niche groups of customers. Rather than continue to roll out major features in vSphere, VMware is focusing on expanding features in other products like VSAN and NSX.

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