Cutting through the FUD: Facts you should know about Hyper-V and System Center

Attempts to explain the FUD and states facts about Hyper-V and System Center.

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Microsoft has an interesting blog post which they hope will help fight back against what they regard as an unofficial FUD campaign against HyperV and their associated virtualization products:

http://blogs.technet.com/virtplanet/archive/2009/12/19/cutting-through-the-fud-facts-you-should-know-about-hyper-v-and-system-center.aspx

It’s written by Edwin Yuen, Senior Technical Product Manager. Some Pro-VMware folks might find it a bit “kettle calling the pot black” of Microsoft to accuse others of FUD.  After all, Microsoft hasn’t been shy of producing their own FUD in recent years. You might remember that Yuen was the co-presenter in the now notorious “Microsoft Myth Busters: Top 10 VMware Myths” -  that claimed VMware introduced more “layers” than the MS model.

What’s interesting about Yuen’s blog post is how conciliatory it is compared to the more recent content spats, which saw VMware & Microsoft at each other's throats on a whole raft of features and issues. So, for example, Yeun states:

“At the most basic level, you can deploy Hyper-V and Microsoft Virtualization side by side with any VMware installation.  Virtualization is a growing technology and there are plenty of opportunities in most business to deploy both hypervisors.  It is NOT an all or nothing proposition.”

To be honest I think there may be some merits in Yuen’s argument.  For example, that there may indeed be a strategic use of Microsoft Virtualization, or even Citrix Xen, for certain applications. I have customers coming to me with arguments along the lines of, "should we be using VMware for Tier1 applications", and "good enough" virtualization for the lower end. The only troubles I have with this perspective go as follows. Firstly, running multiple environments with overlapping functionally in itself is not free from cost. Secondly, I think Yuen’s suggestion is essentially an argument designed to leverage a Microsoft deployment into a VMware shop in a real effort to squeeze out VMware altogether. No disrespect to the guy personally, but I think he’s been a bit disingenuous when postulating a side-by-side installation. If Microsoft is worth its salt, if any company is worth it salt, it will actually want to usurp the competition. This is precisely how MS successfully defeated Novell. So MS says:

“Look we're not out to get you to remove Novell VMware. No, our technologies work along side your existing Novell VMware environment. Our technologies are complementary, you don’t have to get rid of Novell VMware. It is NOT an all or nothing proposition.”

That’s all very reasonable. It’s not that it's bad thing but I’m interested in the realities rather than just PR. We all know Microsoft wants a piece of the virtualization pie. The competition is good for the customer at the end of the day. If VMware had no competitors we would be in a very difficult situation.

Yuen goes on to criticize what he calls “clickbox-its”. The way some pro-VMware types enumerate a dizzying list of features to demonstrate that other products (like MS Virtualization) are not “Enterprise Ready”. This is something I call “Featurism”. Where products become bloated monsters, overstuffed with features that customers/users hardly ever use.

Of course, all software vendors use such features to differentiate themselves from their competitors all the time. It’s a disease systemic to the IT generally, and also to the world of consumer electronics. All of these companies need to construct some kind of value-add proposition and try to construct some kind of USP to differentiate themselves from the competitors. That’s all fine and dandy; the trouble is that it's left to us as consumers to work out if

a.) The claims are true

b.) those differentiators are as significant as they tell us they are

c.) it's worth the premium in terms of licensing costs, that they attach to those features.

In my experience, many companies spend a truck load of cash on software/hardware and then only use 10% of its functionality. This happens not because they don’t need the other 90%, but because  they have less investment in the skills & abilities of the folks who drive and manage those technologies. They are merely ignorant of the other 90% of what the technology can do for them, and they just accept the defaults and core functionality. In the average IT shop you’re expected to know 10% of everything. The trouble with this, as the poet Alexander Pope once said, is “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

It’s no accident I’ve dedicated the last 17 years of my IT career to some kind of training/educational role. The disappointing thing I’ve discovered is that many companies seem to put more value in depreciating assets, such as hardware/software, than they do with their appreciating assets, the folks they employ. You see this in every major economic downturn like the one we are experiencing. The first thing that companies cut is their staff development when their bottom line is under threat.

Anyone who’s ever seen me instruct or read my various books/guides, will know that I’m equally as interested in what technology does when it works, as what it does when it's broken. Yuen makes a very valid point about “checkbox-itis” but I think its problem is that all vendors create for themselves. When was the last time you heard software vendors say “Here’s a brand new version of our product and, by the way, there are NO new features”?

What really strikes me about this blog post is that if you read between the lines this is a tacit admission that there is a feature-gap between MS virtualization and VMware virtualization. The line that’s being pitched is that this gap doesn’t mean that MS virtualization can be dismissed as a sub-standard product. My prediction is that in the next 5-10 years VMware will have to work increasingly harder to get their value-add proposition across to the market, in precisely the same way that Citrix had to with their MetaFrame/Presentation product when it was being compared (unfavorably from a cost perspective) to the Microsoft Terminal Services offering. Back in late-90′s, many incorrectly predicted Citrix’s downfall.

That, my friend, is the nature of the market and competition.

This was first published in December 2009

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