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VARs see vSphere 4 as opening for managed services bid

With four different versions and new top-end features, vSphere 4 offers consulting and managed services opportunities for VARs.

Resellers and service providers see opportunities around VMware's latest virtualization platform, vSphere 4. It offers a bevy of new features and is touted as the plumbing for cloud computing.

VMware Inc. characterizes vSphere 4, the successor to VMware Infrastructure 3, as an operating system for internal clouds. It comes in a number of editions with varying feature sets. There are four options for data center deployments that need to scale: Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus. Pricing ranges from $795 per processor for the Standard edition to $3,495 per processor for Enterprise Plus. For small offices, vSphere Essentials is also available.

More vSphere resources:
VMware launches vSphere virtual infrastructure software  

A guide to VMware vSphere 4  

VMware to spill the vSphere beans on April 21

Being able to clarify the different editions for customers will open up several new opportunities for VARs to attract new business. With features ranging from thin provisioning to fault tolerance and distributed switching, vSphere offers a lot for buyers to absorb, according to Jack Kaiser, vice president of business development and marketing at International Computerware Inc., a VMware partner in Marlborough, Mass. Some features may or may not be applicable to a given customer, he added.

"With any new release ... there is going to be some confusion, and hopefully our job is to show customers what makes sense for them and what they can live without for a while," Kaiser said.

For example, not every customer will be ready to take advantage of vSphere's distributed switching, he said. The product's vNetwork Distributed Switch lets customers manage virtual machine networking from a central interface.

VARs analyze vSphere 4 editions and features

Resellers hope to help customers determine what features are immediately important and which version of vSphere they should purchase. Customers that already use VMware in mission-critical settings and have plans for cloud computing may find the Enterprise Plus version the best fit, some VARs say.

Nathan Coutinho, CDW Corp.'s national solutions manager for virtualization, said he believes medium-sized business and enterprise customers will go with the Enterprise Plus version. Although this edition is the most expensive, its features are sufficiently compelling to warrant an upgrade, he said.

One feature found only in Enterprise Plus is host profiles, which creates standard configurations for VMware ESX/ESXi hosts. The feature simplifies the management of large-scale deployments, according to VMware. Enterprise Plus also has the vNetwork Distributed Switch.

Those top-end features are geared toward the management of large-scale virtual environments that have hundreds of virtual machines.

"If a customer really wants to be adopting cloud computing in the next five to 10 years, they will go with Enterprise Plus," Coutinho said.

Smaller customers most likely won't spring for Enterprise Plus, with the possible exception of companies that have extremely sophisticated IT departments or serious security requirements, he added.

While some channel players plan to help customers understand and deploy vSphere, others are evaluating the product as a platform for providing their own managed services.

Upgrading to vSphere 4

Coutinho said he anticipates CDW's hosting center will upgrade to vSphere sometime this year.

Savvis Inc. has been testing vSphere. The company, which offers managed hosting services, released a managed VMware product in 2007. Josh Crowe, vice president of managed hosting products at Savvis, identified fault tolerance as one vSphere attribute of particular importance. With fault tolerance, organizations with high-availability applications may now be more willing to move into a virtual environment, he said.

"It is a terrific step forward and another weapon in our arsenal [for] the war on downtime," Crowe said.

vSphere 4 addresses security issues

In February, Savvis debuted a virtual data center hosting service called Cloud Compute.

Customers will have to decide whether to go with a service provider's public cloud or build and manage their own private cloud. Security is a key issue that surfaces in this analysis, according to Doug Chabot, vice president and senior solutions architect at integrator QinetiQ North America Mission Solutions Group. In his dealings with government customers, Chabot said he finds "the security model remains ... a big barrier and a very compelling reason to keep the cloud private."

Michael Donovan, enterprise architect for U.S. Government Solutions at EDS, an HP company, cited the need to maintain segmentation within the cloud as a security issue. That is, preventing customers' data from mixing when servers and storage are shared resources.

VMware introduced vShield Zones earlier this year, and some channel executives view the technology as a start for addressing the segmentation concern. The vShield approach carves out security zones within multi-tenant clouds. This feature is available in the Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus editions of vSphere 4.

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