Some more about VMware Infrastructure 3

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Last week I wrote an introduction to VMware Infrastructure 3. That was based on my experiences of getting to know the product, so it was interesting to see VMware‘s Jeremy van Doorn and Richard Garsthagen provide a live demonstration at the VMware Beyond Boundaries event in London yesterday. What follows summarises the demo and should probably be read in conjunction with my original article.

Virtual Infrastructure 3 is designed for production use, allowing advanced functionality such as high availability to be implemented even more easily than using physical hardware – not just with current versions of Windows – VMware ESX Server 3.0 can run any x86 operating system including non-Windows operating systems (e.g. Sun Solaris), future Windows releases (e.g. Windows Vista) and even terminal servers.

Because virtual machines are just files on disk, it is simple to create a new server from a template and if a particular operator should only be given access to a subset of the servers then it is just a few clicks in the Virtual Infrastructure Client to delegate access and ensure that only those parts of the infrastructure for which a user has been assign permissions are visible. There’s also a browser-based administration client (Virtual Infrastructure Web Client) and URLs can be created to direct a user straight to the required virtual machine.

VMware demonstrated live server migration using VMotion with a remote desktop connection to a virtual machine which was running a continuous ping command, as well as a utility to keep the CPU busy and playing the Tetris game with no break in service. The then explained that because multiple servers can have access to the same data storage (i.e. VMFS on a shared LUN), migration is simply a case of one server releasing control of the virtual machine and another taking it on (provided that both machines have CPUs from the same processor family).

They then went on to drag a virtual machine between test and production resource pools, allowing access to more computing resources and after a couple of minutes the %CPU time allocated to the virtual machine could be seen to increase (recorded by a VMware script – not Windows Task Manager, which showed the machine as running at 100% already). It should be noted that there are limits to the resources that a virtual machine can use – each virtual machine can only exist on a single physical server at any one time, and even with VMware Virtual SMP is limited to accessing 4 CPUs and 16GB of RAM.

The environment was then extended by adding a new host to the VMware cluster within VirtualCenter and the VMware dynamic resource scheduling (DRS)functionality demonstrated, as virtual machines were automatically migrated between hosts to spread the load between servers. Then, to demonstrate a failure of a single host, one of the servers was simply switched off! Within about two minutes all virtual machines had successfully migrated elsewhere (using VMware high availability) and although there was an obvious break in service, it was only for a few minutes.

Richard Garsthagen then made the point that VMware (as a company) is not just about virtualisation – it’s about rethinking common IT tasks and he demonstrated the VMware consolidated backup (VCB) functionality whereby a backup proxy was used to take a point in time (snapshot) copy of a virtual machine without any break in service (just a message on the screen to say that the machine was being backed up), whilst maintaining consistency of data. VMware did highlight however that VCB is not a backup product itself – it’s an enabling technology that can be integrated with other products.

Turning to virtualisation of the desktop, VMware then demonstrated their Virtual Desktop Infrastructure product which makes virtual desktops available to users via a web portal with links that will start a VM in a remote desktop session. Provisioning a virtual machine to a user is a simple as assigning access in the Virtual Infrastructure Client.

Finally, a short glimpse was given into the Akimbi Slingshot product, recently purchased by VMware, which allows self provisioning of an isolated laboratory environment from a web client.

I’ve seen a lot of demonstrations over the years and, apart from a slight hiccup with the VCB demo when Richard Garsthagen closed the command window just as the backup started, this was one of the smoothest demos I’ve seen of some advanced operations, which in the physical world would require expensive (and complex) hardware, all executed within VMware Infrastructure 3.

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