VSphere 5 features for VARs: VCenter server appliance, auto deploy

Solution providers should take note of vSphere 5 features such as vCenter server appliance, a low-maintenance tool that helps VARs deploy vCenter Server, and auto deploy, which makes running ESXi much easier.

While part one of this vSphere 5 upgrade series dealt with the challenges that solution providers may need to deal

with during a migration, but there are also benefits. Because of their simplistic nature and improved capabilities, the vSphere 5 features listed below can be assets during a customer upgrade:

VCenter Server appliance
VSphere 5 supports running vCenter Server as a pre-built Linux virtual appliance. This makes deploying and maintaining vCenter Server much easier and also means it’s no longer required to run it on a server running a Windows operating system (OS). The virtual appliance comes packaged with IBM’s DB2 Express and also supports only Oracle or DB2 for external databases. This will appeal to customers that mainly use Linux because vCenter Server doesn’t require the use of Microsoft products. 

Solution providers can use a Web user interface (UI) for configuration, and it’s compatible with the new Flex based Web UI that is part of vSphere 5. Flex is a framework for web development from Adobe that enables rich functionality for Web browsers. This allows for better Web administration UI's to be created so VMware can mimic the Windows based vSphere Client's functionality through a Web browser. The previous web UI in vSphere 4 just used basic HTML and was not as feature-heavy as the new Flex based Web UI in vSphere 5.

VCenter Server authentication can be configured using Active Directory (AD) or Network Information Services (NIS). The appliance maintains all the regular features that vCenter Server provides except for Linked Mode, which is used to manage multiple vCenter Servers.

Simplicity is big strength of the vCenter Server appliance. It’s very easy to install and maintain and there’s no worries about administering the OS and the database if the built-in DB2 database is used. While the built-in database does not scale very large, it’s perfect for smaller customers that don’t have any in-house database administration skills. 

It also results in cost savings for customers because a Windows Server license for vCenter Server is no longer required. Even if customers are already using vCenter Server in their environment, a vSphere 5 upgrade is a good chance to deploy the new vCenter Server 5 appliance and migrate all your customer’s hosts to it.

Auto deploy
Auto deploy is a handy vSphere 5 feature that allows ESXi to run stateless, which means it doesn’t need to be installed directly on a server. This is a big change from a traditional ESXi installation because the hypervisor files and its state are not stored on the host disk. Using Auto Deploy, an image file for an ESXi host is loaded directly into the host’s memory from a vCenter Server whenever the host is booted. 

The vCenter Server then stores the image files and profiles for each ESXi host and all updates and patching is done centrally through the vCenter Server. This architecture has many advantages over traditional ESXi installation on each host, but can be difficult to properly set up and configure.

A vSphere 5 upgrade is the perfect time to set up auto deploy instead of trying to configure it later on after the whole environment has been upgraded. Communicate with your customers and make sure they understand auto deploy’s principles and procedures and how it can benefit their environment and making it much easier to manage.

More considerations
Another aspect of vSphere 5 to keep in mind is compatibility. You need to ensure that your customer’s hardware is listed on the vSphere 5 hardware compatibility guide and ensure that all their companion software is compatible This includes other VMware products such as View and SRM, as well as any third-party software products that they may be using.

You may have to upgrade to a newer version that provides support for vSphere 5. Once you take the time and have done all the prep work, you can build a plan to get your customers migrated to vSphere 5 so they can begin enjoying all the new features and enhancements that it provides.

About the expert
Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran whose primary focus is VMware virtualization and Windows server administration. He is one of the 300 vExperts named by VMware Inc. for 2009. He is the author of the book
VI3 Implementation and Administration and a frequent TechTarget contributor. In addition, he maintains vSphere-land.com, a VMware information site.

This was first published in October 2011

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