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VSphere upgrade considerations: Features and licensing

Find out about the benefits of a vSphere upgrade, including new performance-enhancing features, such as VM DirectPath, and learn about the changes in license requirements.

Solutions providers often find their customers concerned with the overhead involved with virtualization, and a vSphere upgrade can present many additional costs. When deciding whether a vSphere upgrade is worth it for your customers, you need to know what vSphere's new features can offer and how changes in license requirements will affect their budgets. In this interview with Pat Ouellette from SearchSystemsChannel.com, vSphere expert Eric Siebert explains how certain features, such as VM DirectPath, can boost your customers' application speeds, and he also analyzes the licensing changes made in vSphere.

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Pat Ouellette: VMware says a vSphere upgrade offers new operational and application efficiency. Which vSphere features do you think improve operational and application efficiency?

Eric Siebert: From an efficiency standpoint, vSphere has a lot of performance improvements across the board. [VMware Inc.] introduced a new network driver that provides a lot better performance than the previous network drivers. For people that are using iSCSI shared storage, [VMware] actually rewrote the initiator for that and got big performance gains.

[They] also introduced some new features that let applications run a bit faster, such as VMDirectPath, which allows an application to directly access devices in a host and not have to go through the virtualization layer. This reduces the I/O penalty associated with virtualization. Another new feature is called Virtual Machine Communication Interface (VMCI), which allows virtual machines (VMs) to talk on the same host and to talk directly to each other without going through the network to communicate. This also greatly increases the speed between those VMs, or the rate of data transfer between the VMs.

In vSphere, VMware has made great improvements across the board -- whether it's from CPU optimizations or just from optimizing all the existing features. [The company has also] published a lot of these performance statistics on testing vSphere compared to the older versions. It does perform much better, and the penalty that's often associated with virtualization, because of the overhead, is greatly reduced in a lot of areas.

Ouellette: If a solutions provider is performing a vSphere upgrade, are there license requirements that they need to keep in mind?

Siebert: There are, because they did change the licensing in vSphere compared to the previous version. Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of the higher tier -- the Enterprise Plus license. Certain customers in [VMware Infrastructure 3] that have Enterprise licenses are not entitled to that upper tier. They actually have to upgrade their licenses to get that.

The Enterprise Plus license is designed for larger organizations that have a lot of hosts that need better management features, such as the host profiles and the distributed vSwitches that the Enterprise Plus tier offers. [Enterprise Plus] also gives them more scalability. They'll scale up to unlimited memory in the hosts and up to 12 cores per processor, whereas the other editions only support six.

In addition, [VMware has] made some other changes to [its] lower-end tiers. Essentials and Essentials Plus are targeted at small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that can't afford some of the advanced features that larger enterprises can. Perhaps the biggest cost to get a lot of those advanced features was vCenter Server, and what [VMware] did with the Essentials bundle was included [vCenter Server] in the package, which made the licensing and features a lot more affordable. Smaller companies could get some of vSphere's better features without paying a lot of money that they couldn't afford.

Beyond that, the licensing in vSphere is pretty much the same as the previous version. The one great reference when you're trying to choose a license for vSphere is to look at the features. VMware breaks those out in certain areas like availability features and scalability features. [The company has] a chart that shows you each license and what you will get with that license. For certain features, you may have to upgrade to a more expensive license. [VMware] actually bundled some features, such as the fault tolerance feature, which provides greater availability than the high availability feature did, into some of the lower-end environments. You don't have to upgrade to Enterprise Plus to get [the fault tolerance feature].

When choosing a license, look at the features that your customers need and make a determination of which tier makes sense for them based on their requirements and the amount of money they have to spend.

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.

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