VMware introduces 'operating system for the cloud'

The company claims its vSphere 4 suite makes it possible to offer better application performance with virtualisation than without
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

VMware on Tuesday announced its latest virtualisation suite, vSphere 4, which is designed for setting up and managing networked virtual processors within a company's datacentre.

The product, a renamed successor to VMware Infrastructure 3, is a suite that incorporates the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and other application and infrastructure services. VMware said in a statement that vSphere 4 would, over time, gain the ability to link up to the public clouds offered by various providers.

Although VMware claims vSphere 4 is a "cloud operating system", it is not an operating system in the traditional sense — instead, it manages virtual processors across multiple cores and the enterprise LAN.

"If you compare us to other cloud vendors such as Amazon and Google, they're putting their cloud strategy in the application layer," Fredrik Rynger, senior systems engineer at VMware, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "For the application to work under those premises, you have to pretty much rewrite the application. We bring cloud computing down to the server level, so any application can be put into our cloud operating system, instead of each application having to be written in .NET or some application layer."

Rynger said vSphere 4 was the first version of the company's virtualisation platform to demonstrate application performance that was better than that achieved on non-virtualised systems.

"On the same physical server, we tested first without VMware — so the operating system was installed on bare metal — and after that we took the same physical hardware and installed VMware [and achieved] a higher score with virtualisation than without," Rynger said, adding that the tests were conducted using standard SPECweb2005 benchmarking.

Rynger suggested that the achievement was possible because of the multicore configuration of modern standard servers. The platform provides eight virtual processors per virtual machine — twice the number provided by its predecessor.

"Applications are not written from the ground up to handle so many cores," he said. "If you want to make use of all physical cores in the server today, you either have to rewrite the apps or use virtualisation to spread the load inside the physical server. Now we've proven that we're past native performance."

Memory per virtual machine has been bumped up from 64GB to 255GB, network throughput boosted from 9Gbps to 30Gbps and network interface controllers (NICs) increased from four to 10. Compared with Infrastructure 3, vSphere 4 offers a 50 percent improvement in application development workload performance and a 30 percent improvement in Citrix XenApp performance, VMware said in a statement.

VMware also said vSphere 4 assures zero physical downtime for application users. Whereas VMware already offered High Availability functionality — automatically restarting applications if the physical server failed — vSphere 4 also offers VMware Fault Tolerance.

"It doesn't matter what kind of operating system or application you are hosting inside the virtual machine," Rynger said. "We can record everything that executes inside a virtual machine, stream that over a standard gigabit network, and play the execution in another physical hardware, so we are executing the same code at the same time in different physical hardware, and automatically switch over [in the case of hardware failure]."

Rynger claimed that, while businesses have generally seen virtualisation as an opportunity to cut down on capital expenditure on hardware, customers are now seeing "higher and higher operational expense savings because we can automate so many tasks that are traditionally done manually".

VMware has not given a specific date for vSphere 4's release, other than to say it will become generally available in the second quarter of this year.

The suite will be available in six editions, each of which is targeted at various use cases, budgets and company sizes. The cheapest version, aimed at small offices, will be vSphere 4 Essentials, priced at $995 (£680) for three physical servers. The top end of the range is represented by vSphere 4 Enterprise Plus, which is intended for turning datacentres into "internal cloud-computing environments", at a cost of $3,495 per physical processor.

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