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How to choose the right server virtualization software vendor

Bill Claybrook, Contributor
In TechTarget's recent "Virtualization Decisions 2009 Purchasing Intentions Survey," the domination of VMware and Microsoft in the server virtualization software market is clear. The two companies have a combined 87.2% market share, with VMware at 72.4% and Microsoft at 14.8%. This is not surprising; in 2008, x86-based software for virtualization accounted for more than 75% of virtualization software market revenue, and by 2013, it will surpass 90%, according to IDC.

Meanwhile, the survey results also indicate that Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer, Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtualization, Virtual Iron Software and other commercial open source Xen variants have barely 1% each of virtualization market share. And other technologies, such as IBM mainframe partitions and Solaris Containers, have less than 1%.

Selecting a server virtualization software vendor
When deciding on a server virtualization software vendor (or vendors), you should consider several factors: costs, vendor lock-in and the availability of

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virtualization management tools.

Hyper-V is basically free, but it has greater capability when used with Windows Server 2008, which costs up to $3,999 depending on the edition. It also locks you into the Microsoft virtualization software management stack, System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

If you choose Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) virtualization, you are locked into Red Hat- or Ubuntu Linux-based virtualization platforms , because no one else supports KVM and there are scant management tools to use (except those from Red Hat). The same is true of Oracle VM virtualization (and the virtualization technologies it acquired from Sun Microsystems and Virtual Iron).

Novell has a suite of agnostic management tools, PlateSpin and ZENworks, that allows you to manage VMware, Hyper-V and Xen virtual servers. But no matter what virtualization software vendors tell you about interoperability, you will be locked into using their virtualization management tools if you choose their virtualization platforms.

Before you make a decision based solely on cost and lock-in, there are at least two other issues to consider:

  • the risks of choosing an open source virtualization platform or a commercial open source virtualization platform with low market share.
  • the rate of innovation associated with all the potential platforms. VMware is the de facto innovation leader today.
If your data center runs mission-critical applications on virtualized servers, you should seriously consider going with one of the virtualization vendors that has the larger installed bases : that is, VMware and Microsoft. But there are exceptions involving Oracle and Red Hat, such as the following:
  • Seriously consider Oracle VM if you use several Oracle applications. You will get better performance because Oracle has integrated its applications with its virtualization platform.
  • Choose Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based virtualization if your data center has a large Red Hat installed base.
For primarily Windows shops, we recommend that the following:
  • Virtualize Windows workloads using Hyper-V or VMware ESX hypervisors.
  • Do not virtualize production-ready, mission-critical Windows workloads on Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based virtualization or any of the Oracle-Sun-Virtual Iron offerings based on Xen.
  • Do not virtualize production-ready, mission-critical Linux workloads on Hyper-V. It is OK to use VMware ESX Server for Linux workloads, but it's far more costly than if you use the virtualization software platform provided by your Linux vendor.

The second part of this series on server virtualization platforms' functionality, cost and integration issues focuses on mixed virtual environments and the virtual appliance and cloud computing markets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry and a decade of expertise in Linux and open source technologies. From 1999 to 2004, Claybrook was the research director for Linux and open source at Aberdeen Group. He is now the president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass., and holds a Ph.D. in computer science.

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