Open source virtualization software still trails, despite improvements

Open source virtualization software has improved, and admins want more choice, but VMware and Hyper-V still dominate the market.

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Open source virtualization is still a niche technology, despite the rise of multi-hypervisor...

infrastructures.

Recent open source virtualization software releases have packed in new features with impressive specs, and there’s a clear appetite for VMware Inc. alternatives in enterprise data centers.

One might think these two factors would combine to provide a major boost in open source virtualization’s market share, but that hasn’t happened. Among VMware competitors, only Microsoft’s proprietary Hyper-V has benefited, according to data and several solution providers and analysts who work with multi-hypervisor clients.

“It tends to be Hyper-V,” said Josh Townsend, virtualization practice manager at Clearpath Solutions Group in Herndon, Va. “Every once in a while we run into Citrix for virtual desktops.”

Other speakers and attendees at this week’s Virtualization Technology Users Group (VTUG) meeting here echoed Townsend’s statement. And when it comes to their customers’ first choices, open source virtualization software hasn't fared any better.  

This year, 59.6% of respondents to TechTarget’s Data Center and Readers’ Choice Survey identified some version of VMware's hypervisor as their primary virtualization platform. Microsoft held a solid second place with 20.3%. Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer, which just joined the open source ranks,finished in a distant third, with 3.3%. And  KVM-based hypervisors didn't even crack the 2% mark.

Open source virtualization features improve

Recent developments look to reverse open source virtualization’s fortunes, however. XenServer 6.2, released last month, includes several features that equal or exceed those of VMware’s ESXi 5.1. More importantly, for the first time, all of these features are available for free (although enterprise support licenses carry a price tag).

Earlier this month, the Xen Project, a Linux Foundation consortium that oversees the open source Xen hypervisor, released Xen 4.3. This latest version increases physical memory support on hosts more than threefold, from 5 TB to 16 TB of RAM, and branches out into cutting-edge areas with previews of ARM server support and Open vSwitch integration.

At the VTUG event, IT management vendor ManageEngine said it supports XenServer in the latest versions of its Applications Manager and OpManager products, which already support VMware and Hyper-V. Third-party vendor support is crucial for any hypervisor to gain critical mass.

The company added XenServer support because of customer demand, mainly from medium-sized businesses, according to Arun Balachandran, a ManageEngine senior marketing analyst. The company has also received requests for KVM support from SMBs and some medium-level enterprises, he said.

The trend toward heterogeneous virtualization environments is a result of  hypervisor commoditization. In response, VMware and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft, have tried to move the discussion away from server virtualization, toward higher-level topics such as cloud computing and the software-defined data center, to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

"VMware's pretty aware that there are other hypervisors," said Alex Mittell, a VMware consulting architect, during his VTUG keynote. "The software-defined data center can encompass them all."

There are also indications that the pace of hypervisor innovation has slowed. In the past, VMware has released a major new version of vSphere every other year, with a point release in between: vSphere 4 in 2009, 4.1 in 2010, 5 in 2011 and 5.1 in 2012. But a VTUG speaker referred to this year's release as "vSphere 5.next," and other attendees said they've heard it called vSphere 5.5.

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Will open source virtualization ever become mainstream?
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Yes, because "mainstream" needs it! #simple
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Not in the short term.
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maybe after at least 5 years
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If mainstream means a significant % or majority of workloads running on it, then YES but many may not even be aware (or care) they are using it … running appliances and cloud providers that incorporate OSS
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not across all sectors but maybe in sectors like higher education – colleges / universities.
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In my company, there is no reason to transfer the licensing budget for FTEs to maintain an Open Source solution. Remember Linux vs. Windows? Is Linux the main OS today for the Server or Desktop?
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VMware is the market leader, MS is not ready yet but 2nd, I don't see any of the Open Source offerings becoming mainstream...
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It is a hybrid world, there will always be some open source but I believe commercial offerings are going to dominate it.
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KVM/Xen against VMware or Microsoft? Really?
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Heterogeneous virtualization = Higher OPEX costs.
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What about OSS virt solutions used via Linux distributions? Are you counting them too?
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The growth of Linux in data centre is increasing rapidly which will ensure adaption of open source virtualization as feature wise there offering is increasing tremendously.
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As Linux is the main OS now for servers, opensource will likely be leading for Virtualization unless Vmware drops it's enterprise prices to about 1/3rd of what they are today. That said, it is going to take years at a minimum, and if Vmware became aggressive in pricing it might not happen.
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It depends on how you define the "market". If you count sheer number of installs, then Linux/KVM may be way ahead. But if you count revenue, then VMware is probably ahead--their software costs a fortune.

Also keep in mind that nobody counts software that is not registered, such as CentOS/KVM. This is used widely throughout the world. So open source virtualization may already be way ahead. I use it all the time, it is very solid and capable, and fills all of my virtualization needs for $0 license fees.
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