VMware ESX Server 3i’s Impact on Virtualization

You are probably already familiar with what VMware ESX Server is, how it is revolutionary, and how virtualization is changing server infrastructure forever. Perhaps you are already an ESX Server user, perhaps not. Either way, the latest version of ESX Server, 3i (could go even farther than ESX Server 3, in changing the face of your server infrastructure. Let me show you how…

What is VMware ESX Server?

Because we are talking about a new spin on the current version of ESX Server and I will be comparing the two, I want to make sure you first know what ESX Server is. If you are already familiar with ESX Server, just skip to the next section.

VMware ESX is an enterprise grade virtualization product by VMware. Unlike VMware Server or Microsoft Virtual Server, VMware ESX does not require an underlying operating system to be loaded first. What this means is that you get the highest virtualization performance that is possible when using VMware ESX Server.

ESX Server is purchased in a suite of products called VMware Infrastructure (VI) with ESX Server being the foundation of that suite. To find out how ESX Server and Virtual Infrastructure are packaged and what options are available, see our upcoming Petri article entitled How to choose the right VMware Infrastructure ESX Edition for you.

What’s new with VMware ESX Server 3i?

With as amazing, revolutionary, and popular as ESX Server has been in the recent past, it is hard to sit here and say that there is a new take on the ESX Server virtualization software that makes it even more revolutionary. However, Server 3i offers an important difference over the “regular” ESX Server 3.x.

What makes this possible is that ESX 3i virtualization platform (OS), has been reduced from about 2GB in size down to an incredible 32MB in size. This is possible because the Linux service console has been removed and what is left is the small ESX Hypervisor kernel. In actuality, the hypervisor that really provides the virtualization services has always been about 32MB. Over time, VMware has been moving management functions out of the service console and into remote management tools.

According to VMware, ESX 3i functionally equivalent to current ESX Server. That means that just about every virtualization function and Virtual Infrastructure capability (VMotion, DRS, VM HA, VCB for example) you can do with ESX Server 3, you can also do with 3i.

What is the benefit to using ESX 3i?

The benefit to going to 3i is that there is no installation (if it is embedded in the server when you buy it) and it is simple configure. 3i is great for people who are new to virtualization and also for existing customers who want to simplify their ESX installation.

According to VMware, about half of the patches that were for ESX Server were for the service console. So you should be able to cut the number of patches for ESX server in half.

By not having the service console anymore, the ESX server becomes much more secure and reliable. Your servers don’t need any disk if you use the embedded version and they use SAN storage for their virtual guest machines. 3i is more secure because all of those Linux services and applications are gone.

VMware envisions ESX 3i just being the default firmware on all new servers bought in the future. No matter what virtualization platform you choose, virtualization is making more and more sense because it allows you to take advantage of the more and more powerful hardware (quad core and more, many GB of RAM).

Frequently Asked Questions about ESX 3i

Here are some frequently asked questions about ESX 3i:

  • Is 3i a replacement for ESX Server 3? No. VMware has pledged to support both the traditional ESX Server 3.x and ESX Server 3i for the foreseeable future. Still, it is just a matter of time before the embedded / thin version of ESX server is the only version available.
  • What about my scripts and installations I have on the Linux service console? Many ESX server commands are still available but the Linux scripting and installable applications will not be available anymore. 3rd party vendors who make installable applications for ESX will have to migrate those to using the ESX API.
  • Will 3i eliminate patches for ESX Server? No. 3i is expected to cut the number of ESX patches in half. When there is a patch for ESX 3i, it will just be a 32MB flash replacement file and the server can just be rebooted to the new 32MB 3i flash file.
  • When will 3i be available? Its available today!
  • Does ESX 3i offer greater performance? It is speculated that ESX Server 3i will provide greater performance than the traditional ESX. This could simply be true because you are putting fewer demands on the server and freeing up resources for running virtual servers.

What does ESX 3i look like?

To an administrator managing an ESX server, from the Virtual Infrastructure client (the ESX management GUI) there is almost no noticeable difference The boot process takes only about a minutes and a half and the console is very simple once booted. Here are screenshots from the boot process:



Once booted, there is a simple management interface that only allows you to set the server’s IP address and check log files:


To manage an ESX 3i server, just use the VI client or Virtual Center, as you would with any other ESX Server.



ESX Server 3i will make VMware’s the thinnest, most secure, and reliable virtualization platform available today, in my opinion. If you did not have scripts or installed applications in the current Linux service console, I don’t see any reason not to upgrade to ESX 3i. ESX Server 3i is the next major architectural change of ESX Server – a move toward thin, embedded virtualization. While I am sold on VMware for my virtualization purposes, the new 3i makes me wonder what the competition (mainly the one that starts with a M) will do to try to top a 32MB virtualization OS. I mean, can Microsoft even make a patch that is less than 32MB?