Will open source hypervisors ever be popular among enterprises?

Open source hypervisors now offer many of the same core capabilities as VMware and Microsoft, but their market share still trails. What gives?

As more organizations are turning to multiple hypervisors or just looking to cut costs, it seems somewhat odd that deployment of open source hypervisors is still lagging so far behind, even as feature gaps narrow. Trust is, of course, a huge factor, but is there anything else at work that's preventing open source hypervisors from making inroads into data centers? This month we ask our advisory board experts if open source hypervisors ever stand a chance at catching up to VMware and Microsoft.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, Cisco Video Technologies Israel (formerly NDS Group Ltd.)

Open source software is often perceived as a threat to commercial offerings. While there will always be those who swear (and live) by open source software, I don't think it will ever become mainstream in enterprise environments. For an IT manager at a large business, it is a question of who you can trust to solve a problem at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Let's look at OpenStack as an example. OpenStack is open source, community driven and community maintained. That community involvement is great, and one of its best assets, but it's also one of its biggest liabilities. There is no single point of contact where you can go if you have a major issue. You can go the forums and ask for help, but you can only hope that someone there can help you.

Can you open a support call? Can you get someone on the phone to help when your infrastructure is down, and you are losing money? For most open source software, the answer is no. Of course there are companies (like Red Hat Inc.) that aim to solve this problem by recognizing that if you rely on your software, then you need someone to turn to when you have a serious problem. Red Hat offers open source software, but more importantly provides support for that software -- but support isn't cheap. Of course, they are not the only ones, and there are some commercial offerings that support OpenStack as well.

So the question is, will open source hypervisors ever be able to compete with commercial offerings like VMware and Microsoft? That will depend on how close to the edge an enterprise is willing to live.

Personally, I do not think any reputable enterprise-class company will ever live that dangerously. The same way the typical enterprise only buys standard servers, enterprise-class storage arrays and network equipment from a major vendor, they will also rely on enterprise-class hypervisors.

I certainly would not trust a bank that runs its database on Fedora or CentOS. Use something that comes with support and service you can rely on. More organizations may begin to provide support for open source software, but they will never get the market share that VMware or Microsoft control.

Jack Kaiser, Focus Technology Solutions

Virtualization still can be sold using return on investment or total cost of ownership models, so the pressure to use open source hypervisors is less effective compared to other open source options like operating systems. VMware, and Microsoft to a lesser extent, have far superior features and management functions than open source virtualization products.

Perhaps the most important item VMware has is a real support organization. If you are responsible for managing an enterprise IT department, you do not want to create a "resume-generating event" by telling your boss you saved a few bucks, but relied on the open source community to support your down servers. It is just not worth the risk.

This was first published in September 2013

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