IT shops still buck switch to ESXi hypervisor in vSphere 5.0

IT shops are still wary of upgrading from ESX to ESXi, as VMware announces more vSphere 5.0 updates at VMworld Europe 2011 in Copenhagen.

As VMware continues to regale users with reasons to upgrade to vSphere 5.0, the ESX-vs-ESXi debate has heated up. At VMworld Europe in Copenhagen, this week, VMware reminded its users about the importance of migrating to ESXi given impending plans to phase out the ESX hypervisor architecture.

With the release of VMware’s vSphere 4.1 virtualisation platform in mid-2010, VMware announced that the version would be the last to feature the traditional ESX hypervisor, which includes a management console. Future versions, it declared, would feature only the stripped-down ESXi hypervisor. Users, in turn, were dismayed by the shift. They worried about adjusting to the less-powerful ESXi console and the learning curve associated with the new technology.

And despite VMware rattling off an array of benefits for ESXi – including simpler patching -- the reality is that many VMware users still run an ESX hypervisor and have no immediate plans to migrate to ESXi.

An ESX user from as German finance company, who preferred not to be named, for example, noted that ESXi has a different management style.

“We’re not really used to this new style of management, plus ESXi still has its limitations,” he said. “ESXi can probably be managed just as well as ESX, but we have to adjust to the differences first.”

Regardless of VMware reassuring users of ESXi’s maturity, and claiming that it is now nearly on par with ESX in terms of management and features, this user worried about the initial migration being complex and time consuming.   

Still, the feature gap between ESX and ESXi is closing and, users recognise they are going to have to accept the change more quickly than they thought. In fact, their discontent and unfamiliarity may even breed change, said some. Steve Huges, a cloud marketer at service provider Colt, noted about the shift to ESXi: “Hate something, change something, make something better.” He advised IT pros to experiment with their environments and always look to accelerate in doing things faster.

Command lines and other features in ESXi 5.0
VMware has announced that the previous Tech Support Mode in ESX will now be called ESXi Shell. This includes an ESXCLi command set, vSphere CLI, PowerCLI and vSphere Management Assistant. With ESXi Shell, identical versions of the command sets are used for both local and remote and commands can be listed in each namespace. So if a vendor wants to upgrade or build on its product, there is room for to grow, as virtual machine operators can add new commands quickly in each namespace.

Now when using vSphere 5.0, ESXi can deliver a single image file of the hypervisor, which is designed to replace the previous version.  As a result, fewer patches are required and they no longer have to be installed in a certain order.

Auto Deploy is a new feature for ESXi 5.0, which VMware claims can enable a user to deploy and patch hosts fast “on the fly.” This allows users to change what is running on the host in a few minutes, by updating the workloads included. Users can remove the original image and point to a new one. After a reboot, the host has a new image in its memory. This new feature should be welcomed by IT shops that need to expand their capacity or update a large number of hosts.

Security is improved

In addition VMware has added the LockDown Mode as a new feature to ESXi 5.0, which was not included in ESX. The mode allows the user to manage ESXi from vCenter Server only and cannot be access from elsewhere. All roots are unpermitted for access, apart from the root on Direct Console User Interface.

There are startup improvements

ESXi can be installed in a regular flash drive and then used to boot and run ESXi hosts. It also boots speedily if a host fails or needs to be restarted at any time. In addition ESXi 5.0 can boot from a storage area network, whereas ESX cannot. This support includes Fibre Channel SAN, iSCSI and FCoE for certain storage adapters.

Killian Murphy, director of product management for Cloud Foundry, at VMware, said that new features and greater automation in VMware’s products enable repetitive tasks to be “automated away” which allow an IT manager to focus on more important aspects of the business.

For those who are ready to take the leap from ESX to ESXi, VMware offered the following steps when migrating:

  1. Download and install 5.0 vCenter – start testing ESXi in your environment and test any third-party solutions that your customers use to ensure that they are ESXi-ready.
  2. Migrate ESXi and ESX (Classic) 4x to ESXi 5.0 – use Update Manager and familiarise yourself with ESXi’s remote management options. Note that ESX 3.5 must be updated manually and the hardware may not be supported on 5.0 anyway, so check before you try to move.
  3.  Upgrade your VMware tools and hardware to version 8. Check if you need to unlock certain features or if your hardware is still supported (Hardware versions 4 and above are supported in 5.0). To reduce downtime, make sure each of your environments is secure before you migrate to the next.
  4. VMFS upgrade – this can be non-disruptive and can be done on the live system. Note that VMFS 4 and 5 do not work with ESX/ESXi 4X. Only Virtual Machine File System 5 works with ESXi 5.0.

Kayleigh Bateman is the UK managing editor for TechTarget International and a contributor to

For all our VMworld Europe 2011 conference coverage, click here.

Additional resources

VMworld Europe 2011 conference coverage

VMware ESXi takes center stage in vSphere 4.1

ESX vs. ESXi: Convincing your boss to move to ESXi

VMware vSphere 4.1: Special report


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