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» VIEW ALL POSTS Mar 10 2008   12:42AM GMT

VMware ESX 3i on HP ProLiant servers: Ballyhoo or big idea?



Posted by: SAS70ExPERT
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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.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below or send us your thoughts.

8  Comments on this Post

 
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    So, the benefit of 3i is that I can't put on it what I think I need to put on it? And that benefits me how?
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    It's not just the plug and go factor. It's running a 32Meg hypervisor that is more secure and easier to patch. It's not having to worry with reinstalling HW agents every time you patch the box, because now that is handled in the hardware.
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    Well isn't that a surprise. Andrew Kutz, who works for the Burton Group which is pro Microsoft and anti-anything else thinks a VMware product isn't anything to want. Surprise, surprise! NOT! BTW I have nothing to do with VMware other than I have used their products. Of course I have also use Microsoft products.
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    Hi Cabreh, Just like to point out that Andrew Kutz is actually SearchServerVirtualization.com's VMware expert, and writes about 75% of our VMware content, including our most popular how-to guides. I'll alert him to this blog post and see if he'd like to comment, however. Cheers, Hannah Drake Associate Editor, SearchVMware.com
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    No comment
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  • Drue
    Andrew Kutz left the Burton Group back in October of 2007. Although we respect Andrew's opinion regarding many virtualization topics, the Data Center Strategies team at Burton Group disagree's with this point. Placing ESX 3i in ROM not only reduces the attack surface it also holds the potential for diskless servers and boot from SAN (not to mention enables a faster boot, cheaper replacement costs, energy efficiency, etc). But perhaps the biggest reason it's a big deal is not technical at all. Embedding ESX 3i shows people a world where the HV is part of the platform, it's the new BIOS. The HDD is where the applications live (as packaged VMs or virtual appliances). Then, the world shifts from buy operating systems pre-installed on servers to buying solutions as prepackaged VMs. Dell, HP, and IBM will shift from selling Windows/Linux pre-installed on the HD to selling application blades. The HV will be part of the system as much as tires are part of a car. Sure, you can do these things with ESX 3 or 3.5 (except boot from SAN as easily), but it's a different mindset. And to be fair, HP isn't the only IHV doing this.
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  • Drue
    And being fair to Andrew (I should have put this in the first post), for those of you who know him, know that he is definitely NOT biased toward Microsoft. Andrew and I have spoke on this subject many times before...and his reaction now is the same it was when he heard the announcement at VMWorld on 9/11/07. Rereading his comments, I don't think they reflect any bias against VMWare. While we happen to disagree on this point, I think his expertise in virtualization is worth noting. Notice how he has reverse engineered the plugin APIs to VMWare's management platform. My sense of that is, one doesn't spend that much time and effort on a platform they don't think is worthy of that time.
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  • SAS70ExPERT
    It amazes me that VMware and Microsoft's Hyper-V are being pitted together as if they are comparable offerings. Hyper-V is a beta product and has no real management features, no live migration (Quick Migration where the VM is suspended, in other words shutdown, and then resumed is NOT the same as VMware's VMotion and SVMotion where the VM never goes down and connections stay connected). In my testing Hyper-V, I see basically a copy of Xen or KVM. It is hardware assisted virtualization where an AMD-V or Intel-VT CPU is required. Unlike VMware ESX, there is no way to throttle the root partition so a rogue process in the root partition can steal CPU cycles and memory from running VMs. I was able to run a memory leak and CPU burn-in utility that brought a Hyper-V host to its knees and all VMs were suspended. That is not a good virtualization platform, at least not yet. Then there's the memory problem. Hyper-V does not have the concept of min/max settings with VM memory, only a maximum setting. That means that if you have 10 VMs you want to install and you want each of them to have 1GB of RAM each, you need 10GB of RAM just for the VMs to power on. That's called over-committing memory in ESX and is a great concept and allows less memory intensive VMs to "see" all the memory allocated to it but it will have only x amount guaranteed. Hyper-V also does not have the concept of memory page sharing, reducing the amount of actual RAM VMs use, allowing for more VMs to be allocated and there is no balloon driver that will also give more RAM back to the vmkernel for other, higher priority VMs. Then there is no DRS, where you have a farm of ESX hosts and VMs will be automatically moved around live depending on settings the administrator sets. There's no Virtual Center, where you have a farm view of things. I am able to routinely update or upgrade the ESX hosts with no down time to the VMs. And that includes hardware as well. The list goes on. Don't forget about Patch Tuesday, where you host will have to go down for a reboot and with no VMotion, that means your VMs too. No, Hyper-V is nothing more than Microsoft Hype and journalists and Microsoft fans alike are treating it like it is the Next Big Thing. Xen variants like Virtual Iron and Red Hat's Xen offering are much better choices for a comparison as those at least offer a version of live migration and have been doing it for at least a couple of years. I just wish I can read an article by a non-VMware site that explains all these details and points out how different it is instead of being all giddy about a beta product that is about 5 years behind everyone else. Yes, I'm a VMware Certified Professional and a VMware Partner. But I'm also a Microsoft Partner as well as a Citrix Partner so no matter which way a customer wants to go, I can go there. But let's be honest about the offerings out there and make an apples-to-apples comparison. -md
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