VMware vSphere beginner's guide

Starting out with VMware vSphere can be a daunting task. You don’t want to miss any of its many features, and VMware vSphere 5 has added to that portfolio.

The latest version of VMware’s virtualization platform, vSphere 5, builds on the already solid foundation of VMware vSphere. With the growth of cloud computing and the move from ESX to ESXi, the time is ripe to refresh your VMware vSphere knowledge.

Last year, VMware vSphere 4.1 improved VMware High Availability (HA) and Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and added I/O control and memory compression. Other highlights of VMware vSphere include built-in virtual machine (VM) performance monitoring tools, vShield Zones, VMsafe application programming interfaces (APIs), Storage vMotion integration, vStorage thin provisioning and Fault Tolerence.

Now, VMware vSphere 5 offers new storage management features and host-based replication. This version is also the first without the ESX hypervisor, because VMware is focusing solely on ESXi from here on out. Our VMware vSphere guide provides you with resources on the newest features and the most important changes that have come about since vSphere 4.1 and vSphere 5.

VMware vSphere 5 and the cloud  | VM performance monitoring with vSphere | VSphere features and requirements

Going forward: VMware vSphere 5 and the cloud

VMware released vSphere 5, with plenty of new features, in July 2011. VSphere 5 saw many changes to the overall platform and improved automation and granular controls. Plus, this version relies on ESXi. With the latest version out, it’s also important to understand how you can use VMware vSphere to create a private cloud.

VMware vSphere 5: Special report
After months of vSphere 5 speculation, VMware unveiled its new server virtualization platform, which focuses on scalability and automation. VSphere 5 supports VMs with up to 1 TB of RAM and 32 virtual CPUs. Plus, VMware extended its Distributed Resource Scheduler technology to storage, where it will automatically load-balance overloaded disks using Storage vMotion.

Using VMware vSphere as a private cloud computing platform
VMware designed vSphere to be a private cloud computing platform. VSphere resource controls help distribute workloads dynamically and allocate to VMs on an as-needed basis. VSphere also includes many APIs and scripts for automation, and you can use Lab Manager, Lifecycle Manager and vCloud Director for higher levels of self service -- a key tenet of the cloud. Security is always a major concern for cloud users, but VMware vSphere has built-in security controls through features such as vShield Zones.

Boosting VM performance and monitoring with VMware vSphere

With VMware vSphere, performance is paramount. To optimize VM performance, vSphere has built-in monitoring tools that can prevent resource bottlenecks and monitor the VM, host, networking and storage traffic. VMware vSphere 4.1 also amped up the platform’s HA and DRS features to improve VM performance.

Maximizing VMware vSphere 4 performance
The first key to boosting VM performance with VMware vSphere is getting the right VM-to-host ratio. Then, use DRS to allocate resources to high-priority VMs. Also remember that activities in your guest operating system can affect host and VM performance. For instance, you wouldn’t want to run antivirus software or a backup service on all 10 hosts in one cluster at one time.

VMware vSphere’s built-in performance monitoring tools
If your VMs run Windows, you can use Perfmon for VM performance monitoring. The VMware vSphere Client helps monitor performance outside VMs -- in clusters or hosts. Another monitoring tool, resxtop, runs remotely and can connect to both ESX and ESXi hosts. Lastly, vCenter Server alarms alert you to problems and allow you specify the length of time for which a condition must persist before it triggers an alert.

VMware boosts VM performance with vSphere 4.1
VMware vSphere 4.1 added Storage I/O Control, which allows admins to control shared I/O among VMs on one host. This feature ensures that one VM won’t hog throughput and weaken VM performance for all the guests on one host. VSphere also offers Network I/O Control for distributed vSwitches, allowing you to control the aggregated bandwidth for different traffic types. Another feature, memory compression, takes blocks of memory that haven't been used recently and compresses the data to recoup the memory blocks to the wider system.

VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS clustering improvements
Throughout its evolution, VMware vSphere has made a few changes to its availability features and DRS. VSphere 4.1 added a health status report to High Availability clusters and improved the algorithm that connects HA and DRS. VMware also overhauled Fault Tolerance in recent years, increasing the throughput and decreasing the CPU overhead in the network logging process, as well as improving the integration with DRS.

Utilizing vSphere features, resource controls for VM priority
In VMware vSphere, you can set memory and CPU amounts using resource controls called shares, limits and reservations. Shares assign a level of importance to each VM, limits provide a maximum CPU and memory amount that a VM can use, and reservations guarantee that the VM always gets the amount of resources it needs. In server clusters, you can create resource pools that allocate CPU and memory from hosts to VMs.

How it all started: VSphere features and requirements

Since its early days, VMware vSphere has provided stability, availability and security. But its licensing, pricing and installation requirements weren’t always so clear -- and vSphere 5 brought more licensing changes. It’s easy to get lost in the details of VMware vSphere’s many features, so sometimes you just need a refresher.

VMware vSphere 5 licensing sets virtual RAM limits
VMware’s new licensing model for vSphere 5 limits the amount of virtual RAM available to VMs, regardless of the host’s physical memory. VMware vSphere 5 licensing changes probably won’t add costs for most organizations, but it could change consolidation ratios and the use of advanced features in some shops.

VMware vSphere: Got 64-bit hardware?
VMware vSphere only runs on 64-bit CPU hardware, so you need to make sure your hardware has 64-bit capable CPUs. Use tools such as VMware’s CPU Identification Utility to determine whether you have 64-bit CPUs, and remember that they can still run either 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems and applications.

VStorage thin-provisioned disks and the Cisco Nexus vSwitch
With VMware vSphere’s vStorage thin provisioning feature, you can provision disk space without wasting unused space. To easily convert your existing disks to thin-provisioned disks, use Storage vMotion to simply move them to another data store. VMware vSphere also integrates with Cisco’s Nexus vSwitch. It comes in every installation of ESX and ESXi and unlocks once you’re licensed for the vSwitch.

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