IT pros are split on the potential impact of VMware ESX Server 3i and on the importance of new bells and whistles, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.’s plug-and-play deployment capabilities and support from other major hardware vendors.
Last week, VMware and HP announced that at the end of March, VMware ESX 3i will be packaged on 10 models of HP ProLiant servers. So do embedded hypervisors like ESX 3i represent the next stage of the virtualization evolution?
Of course VMware seems to think so, saying the integrated offering will provide “greater speed and simplicity for customers new to virtualization, as well as increased capacity expansion for customers who already use VMware’s data center virtualization and management suite, VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3).”
Will this optimism translate into increased virtualization in the enterprise? VMware and virtualization expert Andrew Kutz thinks that the exclusivity of the plug-and-play capability of 3i on HP is a stretch:
Plug-and-play is another no-win for 3i. The plug-and-play functionality of 3i is as artificial as its simplified management. VMware asserts that independent hardware vendors (IHVs) will be able to ship servers with 3i directly to the customer, where the customer can simply plug the box into the network and storage, boot it, and presto: installation complete. That’s fantastic! But I can order a server from an IHV with ESX 3 pre-installed on it today. The difference is that VMware has added this data center plug-and-play functionality exclusively to its 3i product. There is no reason that it cannot work with 3.0 or 3.5 as well. This is just another example of a company trying to promote a new product with features that do not have to be exclusive; they are exclusive only because someone decided they should be.
While Kutz believes that 3i is a significant step up, he says on SearchVMware.com that “ESX 3i is simply an evolution, not a revolution.”
The biggest change between ESX 3i and its predecessors (ESX 3.0, 3.5) is that with 3i, agents cannot be installed on a host. Erik Josowitz, the vice president of product strategy at Austin, Texas-based Surgient Inc., a virtual lab management company, says that for independent software vendors, “VMware’s roadmap for virtualization management runs through VirtualCenter.” Putting 3i on solid state “sends a clear signal that VMware doesn’t want people installing on the host anymore,” according to Josowitz. He notes that “from a security standpoint, it’s a good thing,” since it locks down the partition that used to be available under the host, thus keeping out any applications that might weaken a system. But now, organizations that want to work with blended images will need to architect their tech support to talk through VirtualCenter rather than a host agent.
While the solid-state product promises plug-and-play deployment of VMware’s thin hypervisor product on HP’s ProLiant servers, some analysts are still saying, “Don’t believe the hype about 3i.” Citing problems with monitoring and scaling of 3i, the ToutVirtual blog complains that 3i is “a complete disappointment” at general release. “Combine this weak infrastructure design issue with the fact that you can not get any realistic information out of the hardware state of a 3i server,” makes VMware ESX 3i “dead on arrival.”
But SearchServerVirtualization.com expert Rick Vanover begs to differ. Vanover holds ProLiant servers in high esteem, and if ESX 3i is good enough for HP, then it’s good enough for him:
I’ve worked on many different types of servers, and I think the ProLiant servers are superior. The big reason is that the ProLiant BL blade series do not have a competitor to the Insight Control Environment. Further, the Integrated Lights-Out 2 Standard Blade Edition (or iLO) is a better management interface compared to its competition. If VMware takes HP as a partner (or at least as their first partner) for an ESX 3i supported platform, I would choose it in a heartbeat.
But does it really matter that 3i is overhyped? Major vendors now put 3i inside their servers. This reduces the need for major evaluation and opens the door for IT shops to choose servers with “3i inside” and use it when and how they want.
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