06.Feb.2015 vSphere 6 – What’s New

Prepare: This is a game changer…

I was one of the beta testers and in my opinion this is a way more significant jump than going from 4.x to 5.x for example.  It’s not just feature packed or increasing the maximums, although it does accomplish both of these.  vSphere 6 introduces a few new paradigms which have the potential to create a lot of value, efficiency, and also good old-fashioned performance. It sounds cliché to say “this is our best release ever” because in a sense the newest release is usually the most evolved. But here it goes:

An overview of changes in vSphere 6.0

vSphere Platform (including ESXi)

  • Increase in vSphere Host Configuration Maximums
    • 480 Physical CPUs per Host
    • Up to 12 TB of Physical Memory
    • Up to 1024 VMs per Host [Updated from 1000 per Product Management]
    • Up to 8000 VMs per Cluster [Updated from 6000 per Product Management]
  • Virtual Hardware v11
    • 128 vCPUs per VM
    • 4 TB RAM per VM
    • Hot-add RAM now vNUMA aware
    • Serial and parallel port enhancements
      • A virtual machine can now have a maximum of 32 serial ports
      • Serial and parallel ports can now be removed
  • ESXi Account & Password Management
    • New ESXCLI commands to add/modify/remove local user accounts
    • Configurable account lockout policies
    • Password complexity setting via VIM API & vCenter Host Advanced System Settings
  • Improved Auditability of ESXi Admin Actions
    • Prior to vSphere 6.0, actions taken through vCenter by any user would show up as ‘vpxuser’ in ESXi logs.
    • In vSphere 6.0 actions taking through vCenter will show the actual username in the ESXi logs
  • Enhanced Microsoft Clustering (MSCS) Support
    • Support for Windows 2012 R2 and SQL 2012
    • Failover Clustering and AlwaysOn Availability Groups
    • IPv6 Support
    • PVSCSI & SCSI controller support
    • vMotion Support
      • Clustering across physical hosts with Physical Compatibility Mode RDMs (Raw Device Mapping)
      • Supported on Windows 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, and 2012 R2

vCenter 6.0

  • Scalability Improvements
    • 1000 Hosts per vCenter
    • 10,000 VMs per vCenter
    • 64 Hosts per cluster (including VSAN!)
    • Up to 8000 VMs per Cluster [Updated from 6000 per Product Management]
    • Linked Mode no longer requires MS ADAM
  • New Simplified Architecture with Platform Services Controller
    • Centralizes common services
    • Embedded or Centralized deployment models
  • Content Library
    • Repository for vApps, VM templates, and ISOs
    • Publisher/Subscriber model with two replication models
    • Allow content to be stored in one location and replicated out to “Subscriber” vCenters
  • Certificate Management
    • Certificate management for ESXi hosts & vCenter
    • New VMware Endpoint Certificate Service (VECS)
    • New VMware Certificate Authority
  • New vMotion Capabilities
    • Cross vSwitch vMotion
    • Cross vCenter vMotion
    • Long Distance vMotion
    • vMotion across L3 boundaries

Storage & Availability

  • VMware Virtual Volumes (VVOLS)
    • Logical extension of virtualization into the storage world
    • Policy based management of storage on per-VM basis
    • Offloaded data services
    • Eliminates LUN management
  • Storage Policy-Based Management
    • Leverages VASA API to intelligently map storage to policies and capabilities
    • Polices are assigned to VMs and ensure storage performance & availability
  • Fault Tolerance
    • Multi-vCPU FT for up to 4 vCPUs
    • Enhanced virtual disk format support (thin & thick disks)
    • Ability to hot configure FT
    • Greatly increased FT host compatibility
    • Backup support with snapshots through VADP
    • Now uses copies of VMDKs for added storage redundancy (allowed to be on separate datastores)
  • vSphere Replication
    • End-to-end network compression
    • Network traffic isolation
    • Linux file system quiescing
    • Fast full sync
    • Move replicas without full sync
    • IPv6 support
  • vSphere Data Protection
    • VDP Advanced has been rolled into VDP and is no longer available for purchase (the features of VDP-A are now available for free to Essentials Plus and higher editions of vSphere!)
    • Protects up to 800 VMs per vCenter
    • Up to 20 VDP appliances per vCenter
    • Replicate backup data between VDP & EMC Avamar
    • EMC Data Domain support with DD Boost
    • Automated backup verification

There were few surprises as the company delivered vSphere 6 this week along with a handful of related products including VMware vCloud Suite 6, VMware Virtual SAN 6 (VSAN), VMware vSphere with Operations Management — all with the features the company had promised at its annual conference in August. A general availability date has not been provided, but is expected sometime this quarter.

I think there’s some really game changing stuff here. Let’s dive in.

1) Fault Tolerance

VMware fault tolerance was always a fantastic solution but it’s use was always limited due to the restriction to only a single vCPU, no snapshots and more. Now these restrictions are being removed, opening up new possibilities.

If you’re not familiar with Fault Tolerance, a second clone of a VM is maintained in CPU-lockstep such that either VM in the pair could become unavailable and a single CPU cycle would not be missed, nor would any TCP connection be dropped. This is critical for transactional applications, e-commerce, VoIP and many more mission critical applications.

ft

Now with vSphere 6, Fault Tolerance is now available for VMs with up to four (4) vCPUs and 64GB of RAM, enabling it to be used for larger web servers, databases and even vCenter Server itself. In fact this likely a key reason to why vCenter Heartbeat is being discontinued – if your vCenter Server is no more than 4 vCPUs, simply use Fault Tolerance to provide high availability to vCenter. Some may also want to consider this as an alternative to Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) in some scenarios.

vSphere 6 also adds support for VADP based snapshots (not user snapshots), enabling backups and replication. Also added are support for paravirtualized devices, and storage redundancy for Fault Tolerant VMs which is critical for many use cases.

2) vVols (virtual volumes)

This is arguably the biggest new feature and has the potential to fundamentally transform how storage in approached in vSphere, so it demands that we spend a bit more time exploring this one.

VASA 1.0 ( vSphere Storage APIs for Storage Awareness) was introduced with vSphere 5 which enabled many features ranging from array integration, offloading of copying and zeroing operations, multipathing, and storage awareness, which gave vSphere insight into the relative performance of your storage tiers.

While these features were great, there were several limits, including that datastores could not offer granularity to individual virtual machines, but rather all virtual machines would inherit the capabilities of a datastore.  And while we could offload some functions to the array, snapshots were still based on delta files with copy-on-write mechanics.

While this is “OK”, what if every VM could have it’s own storage container and storage policy?

Today we spend a fair amount of time managing LUNs and Volumes in vSphere which in turn determine the storage characteristics.  My VM is on “SAN02-VOL03″ but what does that mean to me as an application owner?

What if the storage array through APIs could become “aware” of vSphere elements?  What if each VM was it’s own container and vSphere administrators no longer had to deal with the management overhead and complexity of LUNs and file systems?  Just provision a server and choose “Gold”, “Silver” or “Bronze” storage — or have this predetermined by a policy.

This is what vVols along with VASA 2.0 aim to provide. Chuck Hollis has a great post going into more detail on this but for now I’m going to “borrow” one of the slides from his post to illustrate how this facilitates providing the right capabilities to the right consumers.

Screenshot_91

vVols and VASA 2.0 could be a blog post in and of itself, but to keep things simple let’s just focus on a few key characteristics of vVols:

  • VMDKs are native storage objects

That sounds good, but what does this mean exactly? Well it means that the storage array is “aware” of each VMDK and that the complexity of LUNS and mount points are no more. This layer of complexity is now removed from vSphere administration — going forward administrators only need to focus on VMs and storage policies.

Screenshot_82

 

  • Virtual Volumes

Each virtual volume maps to a specific VMDK.  Because of this exclusivity, SCSI locking is no longer necessary.

  • Storage Containers

In vSphere 6 a new logical construct is a Storage Container which can contain multiple virtual volumes.  Storage containers are managed by the storage array and can be used to group together storage that will share common characteristics and/or a common storage policy.

  • Single Protocol Endpoint

All storage is unified behind a single logical construct for I/O—called a Protocol Endpoint. With all storage traffic passing through this logical element

Screenshot_8

 

  • Policy Based Management

Now we can have policies that we apply to VMs to govern capacity, performance and availability. Rather than managing this on the back end with LUNs and volumes we can now simply apply policies that provide the desired capacity/performance/availability configurations on a per-VM basis.  We used to do this with scripts (or CLI) against hosts for specific LUNs — now we can simply define a policy and assign it to storage objects as desired.

  • Storage Array Integration

Storage vendors can integrate with the VASA APIs to offload I/O functions (array acceleration) and granular capabilities. This existed for some functions with VASA 1.0, but now with VASA 2.0 the opportunities to unlock the full capabilities of the storage array are available throughout the vSphere ecosystem.

For just one example of this, think of the way snapshots work today – a separate file is created which is basically copy-on-write which must then be reconstituted back into the VMDKs when the snap is closed. Many of you are already familiar with the performance impacts of these operations – which are especially common with backup and replication operations. Imagine if all this could be offloaded to the storage array for fast and space efficient snapshots!

And let’s not stop there as these benefits can be extend to provisioning, replication, deduplication, caching and more.  In my opinion this is HUGE — you may be familiar with the benefits of space efficient snaps and clones, but these were always outside the domain of native vSphere snapshots.  Now all storage vendors have the ability to provide hardware accelerated snapshots (big impact on backups) as well as instantly deploy space efficient clones for test/dev and more.   There’s a lot of implications here for replication and disaster recovery as well. Pictured below are just some of the vendors that have made commitment to supporting vVols.

vendorsIn a nutshell, the complexity of LUNs and volumes is removed from the vSphere administrator, while enabling policy-based management and hardware acceleration from storage arrays for many common functions. Fast and space efficient snapshots. Space efficient instant clones for test/dev.

We’ve had storage APIs for a few releases now, but this level of integration between the storage array and the hypervisor is new.  In many ways it’s a game changer.

3) Policy Based Management

There’s a few components to this including a new Virtual Datacenter Object which is essentially a resource pool which can span multiple vSphere clusters and facilities the assignment of policies to VMs. For example you might want to create virtual datacenters for production and another for test/dev and have these span multiple sites (and clusters). In the initial release this will be limited to a single vCenter server, with plans to support multiple vCenter servers in a future release.

polixyAnother new logical construct is tags which can be applied to any VM. These tags can be used to automate the initial deployment of VMs and ensure that the proper policies are maintained throughout the VM’s lifecycle.

Also worth a mention here is the new Content Libraries feature. Very often in VMware environments administrators will carve out datastores and/or folders for VM templates, ISOs, vApps, scripts and more. Now you can have a full content library for your virtual datacenters that can even be published across them.

With the ability to aggregate this content into a library, which can be shared and published to multiple vCenter servers, content can be standardized and made more accessible. You might even want to have different content libraries for different teams, business units and/or applications.

4) vMotion Improvements

vMotion has always been an incredible feature in vSphere which helps to provide both flexibility and availability, but now several new features will allow its use to be significantly expanded:

  1. vMotion across virtual switches
  2. vMotion across vCenter Servers
  3. Long Distance vMotion

The last one refers to a dramatic increase in latency tolerance.

Put those three together and you now have the ability to vMotion to different regions. I worked on a large datacenter migration project where we had to populate data mules and ship them to remote datacenters to “seed” the replication process. I can only imagine how much time and money could have been saved if this technology were available then.

Future enhancements will support for active-passive replication as well as vSphere Replication.

5) Installation and Usability Improvements

a) vCenter Server Appliance with guided install from ISO image

In vSphere 6 the vCenter Server Appliance has made improvements with feature parity and is now provisioned using a guided process from a self-contained ISO. I went through the guided process and it is much more quickly deployed than in prior versions.

b) Infrastructure Controller

With vSphere 6 a new Infrastructure Controller (IC) service is introduced which provides the following functions:

  • Single Sign-On (SSO)
  • Licensing
  • Certificate Authority
  • Certificate Store
  • Service Registration

Depending on your topology and requirements the Infrastructure Controller can be deployed within a vCenter Server or as its own independent server. This not only facilitates scale and more complex topologies but it simplifies both deployment and management.

c) vSphere Web Client Improvements

vSphere 6 still ships with a traditional thick client (C++) but some of the newer functionality is exclusive to the Web Client which has been substantially improved in this release. The login time has been reduced to about 3 seconds while other common functions within vSphere have been improved by several full seconds (such as from 4 seconds to 1 second for invoking the Data Center Action menu).

Screenshot_83

 

Not only is the Web Client significantly more responsive in this release but navigation has been significantly improved by providing more right-click menus and adding the tasks pane back to the bottom of the screen.

The combination of the performance and usability improvements makes it easier to be more productive in vSphere as well as making the experience more enjoyable.

6) vCloud Air Integration

Hybrid_CouldYou already have a vSphere infrastructure but what if you could quickly add for unplanned capacity using vCloud Air and make a hybrid cloud?

What if you could quickly set up full disaster recovery capability for your most important virtual machines using vCloud Air with 15 minute recovery points?

vSphere 6 has built in integration with the vCloud Air service allowing you to quickly tap into these hybrid cloud capabilities.  On the backup and DR front, vSphere 6 features RPOs as low as 15 minutes, allowing you to effectively use the vCloud Air service as a hot site for your production workloads, with support for both failover and failback operations.

Note:  an earlier version had stated that RPO’s would be 5 minutes.  This was based on information communicated during the beta, and my understanding is that the RPO will be 15 minutes in the GA release.

Honorable Mention

Of course there’s many more features than just these six, so here’s a few I want to just briefly mention:

  • Storage I/O granularity improved to per -VM basis (was per LUN).
  • Network I/O control allows bandwidth reservations for the VMs that need it.
  • 64 node clusters hosting up to 6,000 VMs
  • VMs up to 128 vCPUs and 4TB of RAM
  • Hosts with up to 12TB RAM, 64TB datastores and up to 1,000 VMs
  • NFS 4.1 client enables multipathing, improved security, improved locking and less overhead for NFS storage.
  • vCenter Server resiliency — vCenter Server will now attempt to “self-heal” at several different levels in order to improve availability.
  • vSphere Replication now supports RPOs of as little as 15 minutes.

Many of these features are worthy of their own blog post, but I hope this quick list introduced some of the reasons why I think vSphere 6 is one of the more significant releases in VMware’s history.

For more information you can use the vSphere 6.0 Link-O-Rama provided by vSphereLand

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