It's a growing trend, but are multiple hypervisors the right answer?

More large organizations are turning to multiple hypervisors to improve performance or reduce costs, but is now the time to jump on the bandwagon?

It's no secret that more organizations are using multiple hypervisors today, and more tools are popping up to help manage those complex environments. One study looking at large midmarket and enterprise-sized businesses found that 65% of organizations surveyed are currently using more than one hypervisor.

It stands to reason that larger businesses with many facets requiring different applications would be quicker to adopt multiple hypervisors. But it's clear this isn't just a passing fad, and the potential cost savings of a multihypervisor approach can look just as tempting to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

What's behind the growing trend of multiple hypervisors, and what does it mean for large and small businesses alike?  Are multihypervisor environments right for everyone, and how do you balance the potential advantages a multihypervisor approach offers with the challenges? This month, we ask our Advisory Board whether it is time to consider a multihypervisor approach.

Maish Saidel-KeesingMaish Saidel-Keesing, NDS Group Ltd.

Adding a another hypervisor is no small task. Most shops spend months, if not years, perfecting their skills, methodology, scripting and supporting software to fit with their hypervisor.

If you think that adding Hyper-V or OpenStack or any other hypervisor to an established environment is as easy as building a new host, then you are sadly mistaken. While installing a new hypervisor and adding virtual machines (VMs) is not difficult itself, it is all the supporting actions that need to be tied into the new platform that makes it a huge effort and a big headache. 

Each vendor knows this and, in a way, builds on this assumption to create what we love to call "vendor lock-in." I will use VMware and Microsoft as examples here, but the concept of lock-in is relevant to any vendor.

The way you back up a VMware VM is definitely not the same as the way you would back up a Hyper-V VM. Your build process for your ESXi hosts will not be the same as the way you build Hyper-V hosts. The scripts you wrote in PowerCLI for the report you send to your manager will most certainly not use the same syntax in Hyper-V. I could go on and on with more examples, but I suppose you get the drift.

But does this mean you should succumb to the last and final word of your main vendor and continue to be locked in? No, it does not. 

Introducing a new hypervisor will require that you take into account the migration of supporting tasks, which will take time, and time is money. Simply saying that the other vendor is cheaper (Hyper-V) or free (OpenStack) is being naïve. 

This is just one aspect of what kind of challenges you might face if you try to add another hypervisor into your environment. Anything can be done; all you need to do it throw enough time and money at it. 

Jack KaiserJack Kaiser, Focus Technology Solutions

I went to Brad Maher, virtualization practice manager at Focus Technology Solutions, for this month's answer:

I think that the reason large-sized companies are using multiple hypervisors is that they are being pushed to by software manufacturers. Companies like Oracle are making it very unattractive and sometimes cost-prohibitive to use another hypervisor other than their own. In these larger organizations, the vast numbers of applications that are usually required to do business are driving the need for companies to support multihypervisor environments.

Most SMBs will virtualize as much as they can on one hypervisor, and if a particular application vendor or manufacturer makes it cost-prohibitive to virtualize, they keep it physical. I believe this is attributed to the smaller IT staff size found in many SMBs. Often, they don't have time to train staff to use several hypervisors.

Multihypervisor environments can be very complex and there are many challenges. Typically, the most complex part of managing two or more hypervisors is backing up these environments. VMware has made great progress in opening up API-driven technology to make backup easier. It also helps that VMware has the largest market share, which means backup vendors typically support VMware first. It is possible to have many backup solutions in one environment. I've seen organizations with different backup strategies for physical, VMware-virtual, and Xen-virtual, all in the same organization. I don't believe many SMBs will make significant investments in multiple-hypervisor environments anytime soon; however, larger environments, I think, will likely become more diverse. As these organizations purchase applications or develop business partnerships with hypervisor manufacturers, it will continue to drive the need to support several hypervisors within the data center.

This was first published in February 2013

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