vCenter Server 4.1 Performance and Best Practices

VMware has published a new whitepaper called VMware vCenter Server Performance and Best Practices.

This is a must read if you manage a vCenter 4.1 installation, or are currently planning your upgrade.

The whitepaper highlights the performance improvements in the latest version, sizing guidelines, best practices and some really good real world information from several case studies. One simple, but probably often overlooked tip, is that the amount of vCenter Clients connected to your vCenter Server has an impact on it’s performance. How many admins consider that when they start up their clients?

The whitepaper also comes complete with performance graphs comparing the latest release with the 4.0 release, based on real data from several case studies.

vCenter Performance Graph

If you only read one whitepaper (this week), let it be this one. You will not regret it, I promise.

Where in the world is VMware Server?

Over at PlanetVM Wil van Antwerpen posted The Future of VMware Server back in May 2010. Wil makes the argument that it seems like VMware is indeed abandoning VMware Server as a product, leaving us with VMware Workstation and VMware Player as the two Windows installable virtualization solutions from the company.

This has caused some reactions, including my own comment, where I question the smartness of abandoning what might just be one of the best virtualization “gateway drugs” VMware has to offer.

In my opinion, abandoning VMware Server would be a bad move, but re-reading the documentation from VMware and thinking more about the consequences this might have made me realize something;

What if VMware is working on a replacement product or management solution?

I seriously doubt VMware would want to abandon the use case that VMware Server has, even if they do indeed abandon the VMware Server product itself. I don’t have any inside knowledge about this, but lets say that VMware is working on a management framework for VMware Player?

Something that you can install, in addition to VMware Player, that lets you set auto-start parameters for VMs, let them run headless and remotely manage them? Wouldn’t that pretty much allow us to do the same with VMware Player, that we today use VMware Server for?

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

Using USB Pass-through in vSphere 4.1

Finally USB pass-through is possible on ESX hosts with the new vSphere 4.1 release! This feature ha been available in VMware Workstation/Fusion and Player for quite a while. The freshly added feature in vSphere 4.1 even works if you vMotion the guest from one host to another, which is in itself pretty amazing functionality!

In this post, I’ll show how to setup and use the new USB pass-through feature in vSphere 4.1.

Setting up USB pass-through in vSphere 4.1

First off, we need to add an USB controller to the VM we want the USB pass-through working on. This is done by firing up the vSphere Center Client and right-clicking the VM. Then select Edit Settings

Click on Add and find USB Controller from the list then click Next

Click Next and you’ll be presented with a list of the currently host-connected available USB devices. If none show up, make sure it’s actually connected to the host. If your device is indeed connected, but still not listed in the vSphere Center Client it’s not supported.

In my test setup I have a small APC UPS connected to the host, so I’ll add that to the VM. Also note that this is where you enable vMotion support! Find your device, and click on Next

Review your changes and click on Finish

This will return you to the Edit Settings window. Click on Ok to have the USB controller and device(s) added to your VM.

Connect to your VM and install the drivers, if needed, and you should be able to use your USB device directly inside the VM.

Usage Scenarios

What could you possibly use this new feature to accomplish? Well, for one you could use it to connect your UPS to your management software, without having to install any management software on the host itself. In general I would recommend using UPS vendors that offer direct vCenter integration instead, but for a lab environment this should work out nicely.

Another obvious usage pattern would be to connect USB dongles that some software require, either for security or for licensing purposes.

The one thing that springs to my mind, and one that would probably be the most useful in my environment, is to connect USB HDDs to the host and use those as a backup target for Veeam Backup and Recovery. Being able to directly connect some cheap storage to the host and then connecting it directly into the Veeam Backup and Recovery VM makes it easy to backup/replicate your VMs for manual off-site storage. Kendrick Coleman ( had the same idea, but unlike him I’ll try to make sure my HDDs are located off-site before the fire starts! :-)

I’m sure that there are other usage scenarios as well, like connecting scanners, cameras and whatnot, I’m just not sure I’d like all sorts of devices connected to my hosts.