It has been two years since VMware announced ESXi, the small-footprint hypervisor that eliminates the Linux-based service console. Today, on the eve of VMworld 2009, the company is launching a beta service designed to encourage small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to deploy ESXi rather than the larger ESX "classic" or "full" hypervisor.
A free service, VMware Go performs remote installation, configuration and management of an ESXi hypervisor on servers in a customer's data center. In addition, VMware Go will do a physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration of existing workloads onto an ESXi host and will remotely install the virtual appliances that VMware Inc. sells on its Virtual Appliance Marketplace, said Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's vice president of product marketing.
"One of the things we've been looking at is how do we make it easy for SMBs to get into virtualization," Balkansky said. "The installation of ESXi isn't that hard, but this short-circuits all of that process."
Still, experts users remain skeptical about whether ESXI fits the bill. "I've yet to deploy ESXi for a customer in a production VI3 [Virtual Infrastructure 3] or vSphere cluster," wrote Rich Brambley, a senior infrastructure consultant at Softchoice Optimus Solutions, a VMware authorized consulting (VAC) partner in Norcross, Va.
ESXi stalls in the enterprise
In fact, VMware actively encourages all users to deploy ESXi rather than ESX Classic, citing its "superior architecture." The company has stated that it plans to discontinue development of the full version of ESX, although it has not specified a date. Some industry insiders speculate that VMware will retire the ESX service console with the next major release of the platform, vSphere 5, which will probably ship in sometime in 2011.
While it's been two years since VMware announced ESXi, the company appears to have made little headway convincing existing users to use it.
Even in environments where ESXi makes sense, the nonconsole version is limited by a lack of the third-party tools in the ESX ecosystem, with backup products being the best example, he said. "When customers learn that the product they were hoping to use for full-image VM [virtual machine] recovery cannot be used on ESXi, then they immediately start to lean towards the ESX classic version," he said.
Many monitoring products don't support ESXi natively, said Doug Hazelman, the director for the global systems engineering group at Veeam Software Inc., which makes virtualization monitoring and backup software. For example, HP OpenView monitors VMware environment hosts by placing an agent on the ESX service console.
Some VMware professionals have tried ESXi but retreated to ESX. At a previous job, VMware expert David Davis tried using ESXi 3.5 but ran into problems, he recalled. "We ended up going back to ESX full, because ESXi wasn't ready yet."
Now as the director of infrastructure at computer training firm TrainSignal, Davis opts for the full version of ESX 4 because some tasks were easier to perform from the ESX command-line interface, such as enabling Jumbo Frames. And even though running the full version of ESX forces him to install more patches, "the trade-off isn't there yet. With ESX full, you have more options," Davis said.
However, he agreed that ESXi has a place in environments where administrators have limited Linux skills. "It's ideal for the SMB, where all you have is a couple of servers. If you're a Windows admin and you aren't used to the current console, [ESXi] is much quicker to install."