The Amazingness That Will Be vSphere 6.5

In case you haven’t heard the news, VMware announced vSphere 6.5 at VMworld Europe this year.  As usual I wouldn’t recommend anyone jumps on the bandwagon at the .0 release (unless you have test environments).  Nobody wants to be that first gazelle across the river!

Make no mistake, there are a TON of new features and enhancements in this version, which you should be checking out on VMware’s press releases.  I don’t want to cover them all, as you’d need a gallon of coffee to make it through, but I did want to talk about a few of them that I’m personally excited about.

VCSA Updates

I feel like a lot of people hate the vCenter Server Appliance like they hate the web client.  They’ve been doing VMware for a long time, have gotten used to the old ways, and let’s be frank the first release of these products were sub-optimal (read: sucky).

However, my experience with the VCSA in the last couple of releases has been really positive.  I think it is a much simpler model of deployment, saves on Windows licenses, and sometimes SQL licenses.  I have had some issues trying to do various upgrades and conversions but that is actually one thing that has been focused on for this deployment.  The upgrade process is smoother and you can take Windows vCenters in either 5.5 or 6.0 flavor and convert automagically to the VCSA.

Additionally – drumroll – VMware Update Manager is finally included!  And the upgrade/conversion will take all of your baselines along with it.  This was a big sticking point in the past – please use the VCSA so you don’t have to burn a Windows license, but also please start a license fire right here because I need to deploy VUM.

There are a lot of general improvements including better performance and scaling, backup/restore, new and better stats collection, and a built-in HA feature that involves cloning a running VCSA into a secondary and a witness.  I’m unclear at this point whether these instances are additionally licensed…based on the clone model I’m assuming NO but it was something I thought about.  I’m also not sure about the external, multiple PSC deployment model and how that fits into the new VCSA, but again this is brand spanking new so a lot of details are still hazy.

6.5 also has some improved Web Client UI, as well as introduces the HTML5 client which no longer requires flash.  The HTML5 client has a completely redesigned look to it, compared to either the older fat client or web client.

Encryption

Another big focus in 6.5 is security. While there are multiple security enhancements that I like (like verbose logging so I can see WHAT changed instead of THAT something changed!!!), encryption is always a big conversation with customers.

vSphere 6.5 enables two kinds of encryption.  The first is VM encryption.  This is a biggie because like vSphere replication unlocks your storage array choices at different sites, VM encryption at the hypervisor level unlocks your storage array (and possibly fabric choices) at different sites.  A storage array that doesn’t support Data At Rest Encryption might be just the thing for you.  The VM guest encryption applies to VMDKs, VMXes, snapshots, and is managed with VMware’s Storage Policy Based Management system (SPBM).  This is a great choice because SPBM is simple, and security that isn’t simple is never used and = worthless.  It also looks like you will have a variety of key management options available as well.

The next big encryption is vMotion encryption.  These are basically single use encryption streams from host to host for the specific vMotion operation.  Some people might not think this is a big deal but outside of the security conscious, service providers and people leveraging cross vCenter and/or long distance vMotion should be pretty excited about this. vMotion has been a must-isolate network due to the transmission of memory contents right out in the open.  I know a lot of network and security admins who will sleep a little easier with this enhancement.

Enhanced HA/DRS/FT

The last feature that I’m stoked about are the enhancements to some of the basic and most often used (well, except FT) functions of vSphere.

High Availability now has the ability to set VM dependencies.  This prevents your application layer from starting up before your DB layer and breaking your environment in the event that you have a host failure which took out both VMs.  You can configure the dependencies so that even in the event of an HA your apps will start up with your own intelligence guiding the process, further reducing your outage/downtime window.  It will do it for you rather than you getting a call from helpdesk at 2am letting you know that the application is unavailable.

HA also has a deeper tie in to the host hardware, so it can essentially prefail a host if it is ailing and put it into quarantine mode.  It will begin to evacuate it with vMotion (as long as it doesn’t cause a problem) and DRS will not move VMs to it.  Again this is a cool enhancement that will also increase uptime.

Speaking of DRS, it gets a boost as it now considers the saturation of host NICs in its algorithms.  So if a host has a memory/CPU discrepancy but the network is getting absolutely hammered, it won’t exacerbate that problem by moving more workload to it.  DRS also exposes some (previously kinda sorta hidden) advanced options directly in the GUI as checkboxes.  One of these is VM distribution, so that outside of causing a performance issue DRS will attempt to keep your numbers of VMs roughly similar on all hosts.  This helps prevent a single host from housing half of your environment and causing a major issue during an HA event.  Again, these are seemingly small improvements but combined they will help your business stay online.  Priceless.

Fault Tolerance continues to get performance enhancements.  I fully expect to see more customers using FT in the future now that 6.0 removed the single proc issue and we see more and more efficiency in the configuration and network area.

Summary

If you haven’t checked out the VMware release notes for 6.5 please do. This is just scratching the surface of all the improvements related to the vRealize suite, general cloud and container support, and VVols 2.0.  Hopefully this was a good starter to whet your appetite for what I’m sure is going to be a game changer in a lot of ways for your VMware environment.

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