VMware's new vSphere public beta could reduce the number of bugs seen in previous releases and open the virtualization platform up to a wider user base.
For the first time, VMware has made a beta of the next version of vSphere available to a wide audience prior to its official launch. Previous vSphere beta programs were open only to vExperts and other invited participants.
"VMware is taking the additional step of getting a much broader cross section of environments to test against," said Tim Antonowicz, senior solutions architect at Mosaic Technology, a VMware partner in Salem, New Hampshire. "I think this is a great move."
Users expect an official announcement about the next version of vSphere at VMworld 2014 next month. VMware has not said when the beta program will end, but has encouraged participants to provide feedback by the middle of August. Those looking for hints about a general availability date have pointed out a VMware blog post that refers to the program as the "vSphere 2015 beta."
Anyone may sign up for the vSphere beta through the VMware Community website, and participants must agree to a non-disclosure agreement.
VMware: 'We just weren't as open as we could be'
Bugs in new software releases aren't rare, and vSphere hasn't been immune. The last two versions, vSphere 5.1 and 5.5, suffered from problems with the vCenter Single Sign-On feature, for example. The hope among customers is that the vSphere beta will nip such problems in the bud.
"A limited beta usually can't see every possible production configuration out there, and sometimes there are scenarios in the wild that developers never consider during their normal testing process," Antonowicz said.
Brian KirschIT architect
There were no specific issues that prompted VMware to make the vSphere beta available to more people at this time, said Mike Adams, director of product marketing for vSphere.
"We just weren't as open as we could be," he said. "We wanted to get more people involved in the beta and lead to a better outcome. … We get a better product on the back end."
The new program will also help customers prepare for the official release of the next version of vSphere, Adams said. VMware offers webinars and other information sessions to beta testers, who can learn more about new features.
As vSphere expands beyond server virtualization with more storage and networking features, the new beta program may give VMware an opportunity to get feedback from more IT pros outside its core user base.
"VMware has a lot of fans, like the vExperts and [VMware User Groups], but to the general IT public, they're still something of a mystery," said Brian Kirsch, an IT architect and instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College in Wisconsin. "Opening up beta software is one more way to gain exposure to multiple IT groups."
More feedback, less problems
VMware can also use the program to gauge interest in certain features and determine if further development efforts in those areas are worth the investment.
"It's a way [for] VMware [to get a] reaction on the direction they want to take," said Rasmus Haslund, a systems engineer and IT instructor who runs the Perfect Cloud blog. "'If we decide to move something this way, what would people think?'"
Haslund cited the vSphere Web Client, which appears to be on its way to replacing the Windows-based vSphere Client, as an example of a new feature that could've avoided some backlash had VMware received more feedback.
"There are still some small things you can't do in the Web Client, so you were forced to use the old client sometimes," he said. "VMware should have made sure everything was -- not necessarily compatible with all third-party products -- but at least [compatible enough so] you didn't have any VMware features that weren't available in the Web Client."
This vSphere beta program may also be a competitive move by VMware. Microsoft takes a similarly open approach with its new releases, and the most recent version of Hyper-V received significant exposure as part of the Windows Server 2012 beta, Kirsch said.
"VMware [doesn't] really have a choice, because those launches were targeted at all IT silos and not just a subset," he said.
Site Editor Nick Martin contributed to this report.
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