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Here’s a list of what’s really interesting us with this update, for the full list please take a look at VMware’s document.
1. vCenter Server appliance gets bigger
For a while now VMware has offered a Linux based appliance version of the Windows based, full blown vCenter Server, but in the past the appliance’s database pretty much limited its use to the SMB space. With 5.5 the vCenter Server Appliance can now handle up to 500 hosts and 5000 Virtual Machines. For my environment I’ll still hold out until it has the capability to at least host the application portion of Update Manager (as opposed to the patch repository), but I can definitely see its use in environments with multiple vCenter servers.
2. Storage enhancements
Lots of storage enhancements have been added in this release, notably Windows Server 2012 Microsoft Cluster Service support, 62 TB virtual disk files (an increase from 2 TB- 512 bytes!), end to end 16 Gbps FC hardware connectivity, and a new storage solution called vSphere Flash Read Cache that essentially allows you to pool many flash based devices within a host into a single vSphere Flash Resource. This resource is then used as the Flash Swap Cache.
3. APP HA
While we’ve had 3rd party support for HA of business critical applications for a while, vSphere 55 now make this an built in possibility, allowing server services to be monitored within a High Availability cluster, with just the service restarted if possible, and failing that, the entire VM.
4. New Virtual Machine version 10
New VMs support for new CPUs and a new virtual SATA controller, AHCI, capable of supporting 120 separate virtual disk devices.
5. Expanded hardware vGPU support for VMs
vSphere 5.1 would allow you to directly link a VM to NVIDA GPUs for greater accelerated 3D graphics. Now support has been expanded to AMD GPUs as well, with the ability for a VM to seamlessly migrate from host to host with dissimilar GPUs.
6. Further advancement of the vSphere Web Client
Rumors still persist that when 6 eventually hits the VI client will be dead. With 5.5 VMware’s added native remote console access to VMs and a series of usability upgrades.
7. vSphere Distributed Switch enhancement
Lots of enhancements to LACP in vSphere Distributed Switches including more load-balancing algorithms, and new workflows to ease LACP configuration across multiple hosts among others. Further VMware has added capabilities of both Traffic Filtering and QoS tagging to the vDS, an addition sure to make your security and networking guys pull their hair out if you’ve been doing this down level in the past.
8. Other networking enhancements
Support for 40 Gbps NICs has now been added in this release in addition to enhancements to SR-IOV enabled NIC configuration and host level packet captures.
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All in all this looks like a very solid release with a decent number of improvements with minimum points of bug inclusion. Frankly I expected to see a couple of vSphere features start to trickle down the license level list like vDS and storage DRS in the face of greater competition from many fronts including Microsoft’s Hyper-V at the enterprise level, alas it doesn’t seem to be. FYI, for those like me that don’t have Enterprise Plus licensing, don’t expect to play with Flash Read Cache and App HA as they are top level licensed only.