VMware vSphere Review

Virtualization makes it easier for us to back up, maintain, and manage our servers


What is our primary use case?

vSphere allows us to virtualize our campus servers and our student environment. We run vCenter within vSphere, so we have about 300 or 400 student desktop workstations that we run at any given time. We are able to customize our students' experience very quickly, very easily, and are able to make it mobile from different computer labs on campus.

We're also exploring opening it up so students would be able to remote into their VDI workstations from offsite. We're also looking into wrapping everything up with Workspace ONE, so we can virtualize more applications and let them have more of an MDM experience as well.

We're not really virtualizing the apps themselves, yet. We're trying to move towards that. Our mission-critical things rely on our servers that we have virtualized. We have web servers, security servers, database servers that we have virtualized and that makes it easier for us to back up and maintain them. Really, vSphere plays a part in our management.

How has it helped my organization?

We have seen a performance boost. As we keep moving up to different versions it gets more seamless, it gets easier to maintain, to do updates to our virtual environment and to the physical end. We're also moving towards virtual storage. Moving to flash arrays and virtual storage is even speeding up our students' experience when using the virtual desktops. I would estimate a 25 percent boost.

Another benefit we've seen is with our IT technicians. It used to be this IT was assigned to a specific area, and that was what they worked on. They had 300 or 400 machines that they would have to run around to, to maintain them; re-image them every semester. Now, with the virtual environment, they are able to keep more up-to-date on their applications, on their Windows updates, and do it in the background. They are able to refresh entire labs within less than an hour, rather than sitting there all day or all week refreshing all of the labs.

We have a better, faster management. We have more productivity from our IT staff and more productivity from our students, as well.

What is most valuable?

Ease of support is one of the main features that we have with it. We're able to take Snapshots before doing updates to make it easy to roll back if something does happen to go wrong.

The visibility that we have of our VMs is also important. What's being applied? Who has management of them? Laying it out in a virtual environment allows us to customize for our students. We're able to respond to the students' needs much more quickly than we could in a physical environment.

I found it a little bit daunting at first when I was coming into it raw, but now the management of it is very simple.

What needs improvement?

I would like to see a little bit more visibility regarding errors. When an error does occur, there are times where it says "Unknown error" or something to that effect, and it doesn't necessarily give you a lot of metrics. If you go online and you give a description of it, normally the VMware forums can help you find out what it is, but I'd like to see a little bit more visibility from the software itself regarding what's going on: "This went wrong, this is why."

For how long have I used the solution?

One to three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The downtime that we have experienced has not been that much, and normally it's the result of a mistake on our part, not necessarily the software. We've misconfigured something or we haven't thought about a configuration setting that we should have put in place or we didn't do our research. It's not normally the software that has a problem. When we do have a software glitch, it is normally a reboot and it's back up and running, so we have not had much downtime.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

So far, we've really enjoyed the scalability of it. The main thing that we have to accommodate for is licensing, making sure that we have enough license to cover our expansion.

Otherwise, we just throw a few more hard drives into our server array and make sure that we have enough storage.

How is customer service and technical support?

On those occasions where we do run into a problem, we have had great help from VMware's customer support. Recently I had problems getting new certificates for our servers to be able to bring them into our vSphere and Horizon environment. VMware support was able to help me diagnose what was going wrong with those, come up with a plan for the future to be able to more accurately get the certificates I needed, and integrate them into the environment.

I would rate the technical support a solid eight out of 10, maybe even nine. They are responsive, always quick to answer questions, and knowledgeable.

Which solutions did we use previously?

I don't think we were using anything before vSphere. I think we led off with it. My partner was thinking for a time about Microsoft, but he decided that Hyper-V wasn't for us and we went with VMware, and we haven't regretted it a day since.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Pricing can be an issue in terms of scalability, depending on how quickly you want to expand. If you budget every year, put some aside that you know you need to get another host and you plan for it, then it shouldn't be that hard. If you're going to try to all of a sudden say, "I want to add six hosts to my environment," then it's going to a little bit pricey and you're not going to want to spend the budget on it.

What other advice do I have?

Plan your environment well, determine what your needs are, and then try to bump that up by 20 percent; give yourself a little bit of future expanding. That way you don't have to leap off and buy a lot right away. Budget for the future if you can. Put a little bit away here and there. Look at the virtual storage, you will save yourself a lot of headaches on configuring. The physical storage can be a pain. The virtual storage, once you get it in place then you don't have to manage it much.

Make sure that you really have spec'd out your ESXi host so it can support your environment. Normally, that's been fairly easy. Companies like HPE and Lenovo are more than eager to help you make sure that you have a server that is spec'd out for the VMware environment, and help you get solid on what you need.

We haven't done a lot with the built-in security and encryption yet, but from what I've been looking at so far in vSphere 6.7, it looks like something that we would like to integrate. Before I became an analyst I helped manage TPM and BitLocker on laptops. It was a pain. It had to touch each device physically. I'm looking forward to 6.7 where I can utilize TPM 2.0 and encrypt all of my stations on the fly, and make it a more seamless experience.

We are not using VMware Cloud on AWS. Being just a local community college, it's a little bit expensive for us right now, but one day we would like to.

The product is a good, solid nine out of 10. The only reason I would knock it down any is, as I said, I wish the error messages would, at times, be a little bit more verbose and more explainable.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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