VMware shops continue to weigh up the choice between ESX Classic and the ESXi version, as an insurance company explains why it chose ESX4i over the more full-featured ESX.
At a recent London VMware User Group meeting, the VMware specialist discussed his company's journey from ESX v3.5 to ESX4i and why it chose the HP 490 BladeSystem.
Migrating to ESXi -- the good points
The insurance company claimed it knew it wanted vSphere4.0, but questioned whether to go for the full-featured ESX4 or the more lightweight ESX4i. He said the firm settled on the ESX4i because it supports Windows 2008 clustering, something the company required.
The ESXi also reduced the amount of patching needed. The VMware expert said there is a lot less maintenance work if you go down the 'i' route. He also said there is less documentation, less to configure, a reboot is very quick and it only took about 10 minutes to install. The insurance company installed ESXi on SSD drives.Anyone can do it. Press enter, give it a reboot, push F2 and there's your configuration. That's it.
A Wintel/VMware specialist, at a UK insurance company,
"Anyone can do it. Press enter, give it a reboot, push F2 and there's your configuration. That's it," the specialist noted.
"We had to get used to PowerShell but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't really miss the console," he added.
Migrating to ESXi -- the bad points
ESXi cannot be booted from the SAN, although that ability will be added soon, he said. Because ESXi is still relatively new, there's less information available on it at present so troubleshooting can be difficult.
One problem was that NetApp timed out on ESXi. "We upgraded our hardware to version 7 and the application did not like running on faster hardware," he noted. "We contacted VMware and it was fixed. The app now works."
Other ESXi issues included not being able to install third party applications, such as NetApp, and pains with identifying a LUN: "Only a small issue but can be a real pain," he said.
Referring back to the specialist's previous comment on ESXi's limited console access, he said the 'i' version has limited commands. However, he added: "I don't miss the console too much, anyway. I only used to jump on if someone lost a NIC or if someone had pulled a cable."
According to the VMware speclialist, configuring HP Systems Insight Manager (SIM) in an ESXi host is a pain: "It can be done but with many difficulties. A HP SIM needs a HP specific ISO to install it."
The expert said that you should also be aware that there are different types of ESXi flavours before you decide to buy. Each server OEM creates their own ESXi image that is optimised for its server hardware. The insurance firm has the HP flavour.
The purple screen of death
The insurance company's blade enclosures were running great when the expert ran up against the purple screen of death (PSOD).
"One entire HP blade enclosure had PSOD'd. Inside this there were a few ESXi hosts running and we had to start them again," he said.
The expert said ESXi writes to RAM, so when he called VMware they asked "Where's your SYSLOG server?" He said explained that they haven't built one, so this meant all of the information was lost.
"If you do anything with ESXi, make sure you build a SYSLOG server!,"the expert warned.
He explained that the company has four chassis in a HP Virtual Connect domain, so when one went bang they lost their Flex10 modules. All interconnects to that were on the back end, so they lost everything.If you do anything with ESXi, make sure you build a SYSLOG server!
A Wintel/VMware Specialist, at a UK insurance company,
The HP hardware upgrade
When the company decided to migrate from VMware's ESX v3.5 hypervisor to the newer ESX4i, the investment firm also chose to upgrade its Hewlett-Packard hardware.
In early 2010, the insurance company purchased a new HP blade infrastructure. Originally the business had 80 HP ProLiant DL360s, each with 2 processors and 4 GB RAM. In 2003 the firm consolidated those 80 servers to two HP ProLiant DL740s with VMware ESX Server, when it opted to invest in a VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
The most recent upgrade has taken the company from HP DL740s to HP 490s.
The firm picked HP 490s because it needed more power to take its tier 1 applications, Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server, across. "It was great stuff, all singing all dancing -- really quick kit," he said.
The HP 490s are four times quicker in performance than the previous servers.
The VMware specialist said the number of VMware licenses required was also reduced by installing the new quad core HP 490 hardware. However, he did not provide the exact number and could not be reached for further comment. VMware charges for licenses per socket and each box has eight sockets.
He added: "We have about 121VMs on one HP 490. We have a four node SQL server cluster at present. We will go to five, but it starts getting expensive when you add more, so not just yet."
The expert concluded: "Yes, I would recommend going for the ESXi. If you've been with VMware for some years already, there is not much new, so no awful surprises along the way.
"All you need is a new piece of software to install your SYSLOG sever, to save those logs!"
Kayleigh Bateman is the Site Editor of SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk
Editor's Note: SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk was asked to remove the name of the specialist and his company from this article and we have done so because he was not authorised to speak to the press about this migration project.