vSphere 5 Management Design Challenges

As the release of vSphere 5 comes closer, I’m reading and digesting information about the potential impacts of vSphere 5 and it’s enhancements over vSphere 4.

There is definately a shirt in direction for the platform with the last 2 major releases of Virtual Infrastructure – vSphere 4 and 5, in that the platform focus is going away from virtualization and the focus on the host hardware and hypervisors running the VMs to actually managing and maintaining the VMs in a highly available and scalable manner. This has been proven over the past release and continues into the new release with the new feature set announced with vSphere 5. Add this to the new products and streams of recent releases from VMware, and the direction is clear to see.

Focus on vSphere 5 Management

With the new release, the age-old chicken and egg question has at least been addressed concerning where the management of any virtual platform resides. The dilema has always been ‘I don’t want the management tool residing on the platform being managed’, with the vCenter manager residing either on physical hardware or a seperate virtualised management cluster. Using seperate hardware is great (dedicated resource from the hosting hardware etc – and in some eyes this answers the dilema), but how do you make it highly available and resilient?

With vSphere 5, there is included in the feature set a vCenter Server Appliance and a vSphere Web Client. With these tools residing on a management cluster within your virtual environment, this removes the traditional issue of providing High Availability for standalone vCenter Servers and connected DBs. Indeed, it also allows for vCenter instances to be protected by multiple tiers of protection for the most critical systems, combining HA clustering and maybe even Fault Tolerance protection within a management cluster to provide the best protection.

Cloud Crossover?

So, now we find ourselves architecting solutions with management tools living within a management cluster as a part of a management policy for a company deployment – it would seem silly not to and this has been the defacto standard best practice for vSphere 4 deployments that will continue on to vSphere 5 upgrades. Compare this with the vCloud Director best practices of maintain load-balanced management clusters and the crossover for architecture designs becomes more clear – indeed the 2 are merging whether within a secure silo’d multi-tenant model or not.

Operations Focus on Management

This shift in focus is bolstered by new(ish) to market products like vCenter Operations, CapacityIQ and the vShield family – all of whom look to bring a holistic approach to VMware based virtual platforms. I will be evaluating these in my lab and posting seperate blog items on each.

So, to sum up – the decisions of designers of virtual infrastructures are becoming in some respects easier, and in other respects more difficult. As operational considerations govern infrastructure design more and more, new features such as those introduced in vSphere 5 make management design easier. However, traditional concepts like provising security ‘air gaps’ for management tools are now being removed in favour of clustered and highly-available solutions, which in themselves present their own challenges for (amongst other things) networking and security aspects.

In my opinion, this is exactly what makes being a Solutions Architect so interesting – the constant shifts of new features vs. operational concepts. Certainly with vSphere 5, the design challenges have not gone away with the new features, but the goal posts have moved by a few feet!

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About Jeremy Bowman
VMware-certified Solutions Architect, Virtual Systems Designer / Administrator, Mac-Enthusiast.

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