December 17, 2007, 2:09 PM — VMware Infrastructure 3 is a hard act to follow. When VI3 was released, it
not only set the bar for all virtualization solutions to follow, but was so
polished that many shops put it into production immediately, with no ill effects.
Monday's release of VMware Infrastructure 3.5 hopes to continue the trend of
stable, function-rich releases from the leader in virtualization. Based on what
I've seen in the beta code I've been testing, it'll be a close call.
I've been running VI3.5 in the lab for weeks now, using the code provided from
VMware's beta program. This includes the base products ESX Server 3.5, VirtualCenter
2.5, and the management client, as well as new features such as live storage
migration and distributed power management, plus a bevy of new add-ons -- for
example, an automated patch manager and a tool for capacity planning and P2V
The big news for VI3.5 isn't the core functionality -- VMotion, Distributed
Resource Scheduler, High Availability, and Consolidated Backup have been in
customers' hands for more than a year now. There are a few little additions
here, such as Cisco Discovery Protocol support on ESX hosts (which makes switchport
location trivial), but the larger story is in the management additions to the
Snap and patch
One of the most prominent of these is Update Manager, essentially an automated
Windows and Linux patch manager application specifically designed for virtual
machines. It allows admins quick and easy access to reports on outstanding security
patches and bug fixes that apply to one or more VMs, and to schedule the installation
of those patches. Update Manager traces its ancestry to Shavlik's HFNetChk and
functions in a similar fashion. The key difference is that it automatically
takes a snapshot of the VM's current system state before applying the update
or patch, providing a safety net that is crucial for maintaining stability across
a virtualized environment.
Update Manager also significantly eases some of the administration burden found
in manual or outboard patch management solutions. Essentially, applying patches
to one or more VMs is as simple as selecting them and running through a wizard.
Once that's done, it takes a snapshot of each VM, the updates are applied, and
the VM is rebooted. If something has gone awry and the VM becomes unstable,
it can be quickly restored to a known-good state from that snapshot. The length
of time to retain these snapshots is also configurable, which reduces storage
overhead while still providing a time-limited backup plan.