VMware vSphere Review

All my data centers show up in one view and performance statistics help reveal major issues


What is our primary use case?

We run, easily, 98 percent of our servers out of vSphere. We pretty much have nothing physical anymore.

In terms of mission-critical apps, our entire ERP environment is all virtualized, outside of the rack. Everything in our organization, our student database records, employee records, all of our management stuff, is in VMware.

How has it helped my organization?

It's difficult to say if we had a performance boost when we moved to vSphere because we have been using VMware for a long time. Our ERP was actually the driving force behind our acquisition of VMware. We used that as the driver to get VMware in the door and going. Then, as we started to see what it was capable of doing - essentially running this entire heavy product - we started consuming more and more of our servers and eliminating physical machines, based on the success that we had with the ERP system.

What is most valuable?

What I like about it is being able to see my entire organization, especially with some of the newer enhanced links. All of my data centers show up in one view and I can see every server that's running. I also get performance statistics so if there are issues, major problems going on, I can see them.

What needs improvement?

Management of the solution depends on the interface you are in. The Flash interface can be a little cumbersome sometimes, but thankfully they are moving all of that into the HTML 5. I did see that with the 6.7 Update 1, every function now is pretty much capable of being run from HTML 5. I'm really happy about that and looking forward to moving to that.

Unfortunately, because I'm the infrastructure guy, some of the features, day-to-day things, require me to go back into the Flash version, but I long to go with the HTML 5. It's really fast, performance is great on that, it looks really good, and using it is not a pain.

It would be nice if they could make the upgrades a little bit smoother but sometimes that's a little tricky because, unfortunately, everyone can throw plugins into the environment and VMware can't necessarily control all of those. So I understand the headache for the engineering team there.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The EXSi hosts are rock solid. We've had a couple problems once or twice with a driver update or bad firmware on one of the devices, but I haven't actually had a problem with those in years now. They pretty much run rock solid, 24 hours a day.

vSphere itself is great when you don't need to make updates, but any time you have to touch it, unfortunately there is always a little bit of a fight to get it to do what you want. But then, once you get it there, it's great.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have grown our environment, introduced new hosts, taken old hosts out. We have some 1,500 VMs running inside of all of our environments now and that has been a slow growth. I don't know how long it took us to get there, but we've grown to that level and it's never once given us a problem. From the interface, you see how much CPU utilization and RAM utilization that each one of those hosts is giving you. You can tell ahead of time when you need to start expanding the environment. And with VMotion, you expand the environment and then let DRS have at it and walk away.

How is customer service and technical support?

Often, by the time I'm going for support, there's a major issue with the environment. It sometimes takes a little bit of time for them to either see what's going on or to get me to whatever support I need. The few times I have had to call them on something very basic though, they have been pretty quick.

How was the initial setup?

We use the appliances, so the setups are pretty straightforward. Anytime I have to install new test stuff, I never really have much of a problem with it anymore. Obviously, in the past, there were the issues with SSL certificates, but a lot of that has been worked out and the systems are pretty straightforward now.

Upgrades, sometimes, are hit and miss. It depends upon the complexity of the environment. The more side products you are throwing into vSphere, the stickier it can get. I've had upgrades that have failed, but what's really great about using the appliances is that, when the upgrade failed, I just shrugged my shoulders, turned that new box off, turned the old box back on, and kept moving along for a while, until we figured out the issue.

What other advice do I have?

In term of advice, obviously some of the SSL stuff would be good to know upfront because the requesting of the certificates, while it's gotten easier, can still be a little bit tricky. There are so many of them that you need. Knowing the right steps for selecting what you need can be challenging.

We're not using VM encryption, support for TPM or VBS right now, but we're looking at implementing some of that stuff to improve our security stance.

We're slowly attempting to push our database administrators into moving into VMware. They're reluctant, of course, but we have not given them much of a choice. They will come along and we just need to make sure that they're comfortable and we get them fully supported and happy.

I would easily rate the solution a nine out of 10. The little problems I have with it here and there notwithstanding, it's the easiest product I have ever had to use for something as complex as your entire infrastructure being in one area. I have dabbled around with other products and they never seem to quite be at the same level of stability and feature sets.

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