As feature gaps narrow, how will we compare hypervisors in the future?

Growing feature parity will dramatically change the way we compare hypervisors, shifting the focus from what a hypervisor does to what it enables.

Not all hypervisors have reached a level of parity in features, functionality and performance. However, the virtualization heavyweights are beginning to see real competition, and they realize that the gaps between the leading hypervisors are closing quickly. Given these narrowing feature gaps, how will we compare hypervisors in the future?

As the hypervisor battle evens out, I foresee a kind of stalemate. Vendors will struggle to differentiate their products from the competition, and the short attention span of IT pros will move to areas that provide greater value.

Over the next 18 to 24 months, I think the gaps between hypervisors will close faster. Microsoft has added features to Hyper-V that finally bring it enterprise relevance, and those features will mature in coming years. Features that Microsoft has spent years saying were unneeded or even dangerous will become the crown jewels in its platform (because those features were bad only when Hyper-V could not provide them). While VMware and Hyper-V may consume more marketing space, the increasing communal knowledge of virtualization will serve to keep several open source solutions right on their heels.

More resources for comparing hypervisors

Comparing bare metal and hosted hypervisors

Eight factors to consider when choosing a hypervisor

Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 hypervisors

For a hypervisor, relevance in the enterprise requires high availability, premium network features, efficient resource management to drive high consolidation ratios and advanced storage functionality. But once every hypervisor can provide those features, how can we compare hypervisors -- what can a vendor do to differentiate itself? That is where management tools and complementary products will emerge to augment the underlying hypervisor functionality.

When Apple first released the iPhone, there was no App Store -- the product stood alone as an innovative technology. Today, there are more than a million applications. Like the iPhone, the hypervisor will soon shift from being seen as a transformative technology to being an application platform. In the next few years, the greatest value of a hypervisor will be how easily it enables the user to deploy software, and not simply how much it does.

Development efforts will shift toward providing robust application programming interfaces (APIs) and frameworks that will enable a new generation of developers to build solutions that become an extension of the hypervisor. This is where cloud computing and software-defined everything will converge. We already see companies deploying storage and networking as virtual appliances, security tools that leverage hypervisor APIs to protect data, and hybrid clouds that leverage hypervisors to enable portability. Soon, we won't spend time looking at unique features when we compare hypervisors; we will be looking at how an organization can use the hypervisor to leverage a new technology.

This was first published in July 2013

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