Hyper-V keeps VMware on its toes

Microsoft has been trying to beat VMware, Citrix and other virtualization vendors at their own game.

But should organizations rely on virtualization vendors to consolidate their servers, or are tools from non-traditional players – like Microsoft – good enough?

In terms of installed base, VMware has 89 per cent of the market, while Microsoft has about eight per cent, said Thomas Bittman, vice-president with Gartner Research. That’s going to change over time – by 2012 VMware will have 68 per cent and Microsoft 29 per cent, and the market will grow by a factor of 11.

Citrix XenServer is the No. 3 player in server virtualization with two per cent market share – a small percentage, but still significant. Other players include Novell, which uses open source Xen, and Red Hat, which is redesigning Linux to be more virtualization-friendly.

“The overall penetration of the market in terms of the number of workloads running on virtual machines is about 15 per cent, so we have a long way to go,” said Bittman.

That means the market is wide open. And while many lower-level functions are being given away for free, the market is not commoditizing per se. A few years ago, if you wanted to buy a hypervisor, it would cost more than $3,000. Now you can get one free from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware.

Six months ago, if you wanted any kind of centralized management, you had to pay for it. Now Citrix is giving XenServer away for free, which includes centralized management and live migration capabilities. If you’re going to manage hundreds of virtual machines, however, you need to buy enterprise management tools – and those will probably be from the same vendor that gave you the free hypervisor. “That’s why it’s not a commodity,” said Bittman. “They’re not switch-able, they’re tied to their management tools.”

Microsoft’s Hyper-V has been out for about a year, and it’s an attractive alternative for a lot of organizations, said Galen Schreck, principal analyst with Forrester Research. While Hyper-V is essentially free, you’d want to buy System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) to run it. As it happens, VMM is almost the same price as the full System Center suite, so if you’ve already purchased the suite, you essentially have everything you need to run Hyper-V. If you’ve already made another management tool purchase, you might consider whether you want to go down the road with System Center instead.

Lots of options

If you’re just starting out with server consolidation there are more options available than in the past. While VMware is still the market leader, Microsoft and Citrix are both viable alternatives – particularly if you’re already a Microsoft or Citrix shop. But, for a high-end deployment, VMware is still the most mature and has the broadest software offerings, said Schreck. There are also third-party tools to consider: Novell purchased a company called PlateSpin, a popular tool for physical to virtual migration, and Richmond Hill, Ont.’s CiRBA makes a product for planning server consolidation (which interfaces with VMware).

IBM, HP and other management vendors have tools that extend VMware for application-level management. Currently none of the virtualization infrastructure suppliers do much in the way of application management, said Schreck, in terms of understanding the end-user experience or managing business services as an IT process, so you would still look to an IBM or HP (they have their own Unix-based virtualization platforms: IBM’s pSeries and HP’s Integrity).

Just like Sun SPARC, they have some kind of partitioning capability of their own, which is separate from what’s going on in the x86 world. But VMware is focusing more on management and automation these days. “I think it’s tolerated but not relished by their partners at IBM and HP,” said Schreck.

“There’s always that chance [IBM and HP] decide to throw their weight behind the open source hypervisors instead.”

Microsoft and Citrix are also partners, but they do a good job of staying out of each other’s way. Because of Citrix’s focus on application delivery, said Schreck, they’re not going into Microsoft’s environment and trying to take away Windows customers.

Citrix Essentials offers advanced management tools for the enterprise, to manage both XenServer and Hyper-V (so Hyper-V could get into enterprises through the Citrix backdoor). But one area where they won’t compete is with service providers in the cloud, said Bittman. Microsoft has its own cloud-based solution, so it’s not selling software to service providers, but competing with them. Citrix doesn’t want to be a service provider – it’s giving away XenServer and selling Essentials to service providers to go after that business. So, in this space, it’s really Citrix versus VMware.

The management tools are a real differentiator, said John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. VMware is developing functionality for managing virtualized network connections and all parts of the data centre. The idea is you could put a bunch of blades, storage and high-speed networking all in one consolidated solution and use VMware as the operating system.


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Hyper-V is a credible alternative for a hypervisor for server consolidation, but it doesn’t yet have the management stack to become that data centre operating system. “They realized when they released Hyper-V that it didn’t have everything you would need,” said Sloan. “What they were going for was a seat at the table.” Microsoft made it part of Windows 2008 so customers could do basic server partitioning for limited consolidation projects or within a test/dev environment.

“They’re aiming for Hyper-V to track parallel to Windows 2008, so when the next version comes out, it will have more of those enterprise-level tools and will eventually evolve to become more of a comparable product with VMware,” he said. Initially, if virtualization is being used for consolidation or in a test/dev environment, a more base-level hypervisor will do the trick, like Hyper-V, but if you’re going to virtualize everything from here on in, then you have to think about how that virtual infrastructure is managed – and that’s when to consider a more enterprise-ready solution like VMware, said Sloan.

The need for improved management of the virtual environment increases as the workloads being supported become more critical, said David Senf, director of research of Canadian security and infrastructure software at IDC Canada. “It’s not just about test/dev anymore, it’s about Web applications and IT infrastructure,” he said. “Those workloads are increasingly sitting on top of virtual machines.” This means the need to have better management and improved automation also increases.

More than capacity

It’s not just about managing server capacity – it’s about network administration and security and best practices. Organizations have to consider the workloads being supported, the hardware being using, what other system management tools are in place and the level of security being sought.

But Hyper-V, with the capabilities in Windows Server 2008 R2 (including live migration), Microsoft will have a much more compelling offering.

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