ESX vs. ESXi Which is Better? Revisited.

For over a year now, I have started off telling customers in Plan and Design engagements that they would be using ESXi unless we uncovered a compelling reason to NOT use it. The “which do I use” argument is still going strong. Our blog post “ESX vs. ESXi which is better?“  was posted in April and is still the most popular. It seems to be a struggle for many people to let go of the service console. VMware is trying to go in the direction of the thinner ESXi hypervisor. They are working to provide alternatives to using the service console.

VMware has provided a comparison of ESX vs. ESXi for version 3.5 for a while. Well, VMware posted a comparison for ESX vs. ESXi for version 4 last night. It’s a great reference.

Virtualization’s Myths

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The fastest growing trend in IT is virtualization, a software technology that allows you to run multiple servers on a single piece of hardware. Virtualization also lets you start up new servers quickly and move servers to new hardware without interrupting service in case of failure. In addition to saving enormous sums of money on large sites, virtualization is spreading to SMBs and serves as a foundation for cloud computing.

But many misconceptions or myths surround virtualization today. Many of these myths come from limitations that existed in the past or are spread by skeptics who don’t understand the technology. Here are a few of the common myths.

Myth 1: Virtualization adds another application layer to my servers and slows them down.

This myth has some truth to it, but it is not always the case. Some virtualization vendors, such as VMware ( VMW – news – people ) and Microsoft ( MSFT – news – people ), have two versions of their products. VMware, for example, offers two virtualization products–VMware Workstation and VMware Server–as applications running on Windows and Linux. But its flagship offering, VMware ESX (or ESXi in its latest version), is a bare metal hypervisor that performs close to the speed of the native hardware.

Myth 2: Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server cannot be virtualized.

Just a few years ago, when single core CPUs were the standard, it was unrealistic to virtualize Microsoft SQL or Exchange workloads, but on today’s CPUs with four or more cores, these applications can and are being virtualized with great success. Virtualization platforms today allow for larger hosts at the same cost as yesterday’s systems, which means far more available capacity for virtual workloads. The key to virtualizing more demanding workloads today is simply proper planning and a solid understanding of the technology.

Myth 3: Consolidation ratios (virtual machines per chip) are the most important criterion.

One of the more common myths is that the success of a virtualization project depends on a target consolidation number, typically 15-to-1 or even higher. Customers often exclude candidate servers whose resource demands would lower the overall consolidation ratio. However, a consolidation ratio of 4-to-1 or 6-to-1 still represents a positive ROI–it’s all about a shift in mindset. The soft benefits of virtualization, such as simplified disaster recovery, provide cost advantages over consolidation ratios alone. You can gain more benefits from virtualization by opening up the door to servers that would otherwise be excluded because they would break an arbitrary consolidation ratio.

Myth 4: Virtualization is only for large companies.

Virtualization is for any organization with two or more servers. Virtualization has many additional benefits other than workload consolidation, because it encompasses features such as high availability, live migration, streamlined backups and fault tolerance. These are only a few of the many features that can benefit any organization. These features help organizations of any size to simplify maintenance and reduce the overall cost of their infrastructure.

Myth 5: Virtualization is expensive.

Virtualization can seem like a costly undertaking in the beginning, but it will pay for itself given the opportunity. When you tackle virtualization on your own and you receive your quote, don’t be discouraged. Up front, the cost for the hypervisor may be a little expensive, but the real benefits come after you embark on your virtualization journey. The cost savings from using fewer servers, less power, less cooling, less operating system licensing and reduced maintenance will have you wanting to virtualize more. Consider doing an ROI calculation in the beginning to really understand what virtualization will cost your organization.

Myth 6: Virtualization is only for servers.

Many companies can benefit from desktop virtualization. This will give the benefit of centralized management, a common desktop model and better disaster recovery options. With a thin client or connection software, users are able to connect to their desktops from anywhere in the world. Single disk imaging technologies allow a large reduction in the storage requirements, eliminating the superfluous duplication of copies of the exact same standard desktop build. Other technologies, such as application virtualization, further drive simplified and centralized management, enhancing ROI.

Myth 7: Virtualization is not secure.

Out of the box, any software can be deemed not secure. But following best practices for network, storage and operating system configurations will produce a secure environment. The U.S. Department of Defense provides several guides for securing your environment , covering most popular operating systems. In addition, it’s a good idea to develop your own security standards or “minimum security requirements,” establish policy for adherence and perform regular testing to ensure compliance.

The authors are writing a book, Designing and Managing VMware in the Enterprise , for O’Reilly Media.

Sidney Smith is a principal consultant with VIRTERA and a blogger on DailyHypervisor . . He spends most of his time architecting and implementing large-scale VMware and Hyper-V virtualization environments, as well as performing training and in-depth health analysis for large fortune 100 and 500 companies. He holds certifications from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, Cisco, and Novell.

David Convery is a VMware certified design expert with Anexinet and a blogger on DailyHypervisor . He holds certifications from VMware, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat, Citrix, Microsoft, Brocade, Symantec and Novell.

Mike Burke (VCP, MCP) is a practice director for VIRTERA . He has over 10 years experience working closely with Citrix and Microsoft products and solutions, and over five years experience architecting large worldwide Virtual Infrastructure solutions based on technologies from Microsoft and VMware.

VMware Workstation Release Candidate Available Now

VMware Workstation 7 RC is available now. A while back, I posted about how to disable debug mode and quickly made it private because I was under NDA. Well, as of October 2nd, it is in RC and available to the public.

Since I changed jobs, I am back to a Winders laptop as my primary host. Its very convenient to spark up an Ubuntu VM to allow me the *NIX native commands I use when working with ESX Servers, like scp and ssh. I know I can do it with things like Putty, but I am more comfortable using Linux for these tasks. It makes editing bash and kickstart scripts a little easier too. It seems that Microsoft has made an OS that sucks less than Vista (Winders 7), but many of the simple .Net tools, like the vSphere Client, won’t work without stoopid tricks. So, I also have a stripped down XP VM that I keep updated with all of the kewl tools, like the VMware Clients, PowerCLI, vSphere CLI, The VESI, Converter, Capacity Planner, RVTools and the Host Update Utility. I actually created the VM back when Ubuntu was my primary laptop OS and it is nice to have the ability(and security) to take a snapshot before upgrading any of the tools or programs that I use. Someone once said that it adds extra layers when I am trying to do my job. But think about this: If my laptop takes a nosedive, regardless of the OS, I can just jump on any machine – even a netbook – and run the VM using VMware Player from a USB Stick.

Some interesting notes about Workstation 7 RC:

  • Ability to create a VM that will run ESX 3.5 or ESX 4
    • This was “allowed” in WS 6.5, but you had to manually edit the .vmx to make it work. Now you can tell the wizard that the guest OS is ESX Server.
    • Great for testing scripts, etc.
    • Seems to support all Enterprise Plus features except Fault Tolerance
  • Better Network Configuration GUI for Winders hosts
    • The are using the Virtual Network Editor GUI that we have used on Linux hosts for a while.
    • Seems that Winders hosts will only allow a single NAT network. I always had three or four on my Linux hosts.
  • Better ALSA sound support for Linux hosts
    • No sound output conflicts
  • Driverless printing via ThinPrint
    • Very convenient!

They don’t say how long it will be in RC status and I would speculate that pricing will be similar to WS 6.x pricing. What are you waiting for? Go git some!