What Hyper-V lacks in features, it makes up in lower cost

As server virtualization spreads to small and medium-sized enterprises, IT managers in these shops are closely scrutinizing price and value and weighing the importance of advanced features.

Microsoft's Hyper-V may not be a feature-to-feature match with rival VMware's ESX hypervisor today, but with each new version, it gets better. The trouble for VMware is that, in some cases, IT shops think Hyper-V is "good enough" -- and tempting at a lower price point.

Of 600 respondents to TechTarget's ongoing Virtualization Decisions 2010 survey, 300 have answered the question of whether they are considering an alternative to their primary hypervisor. Of those respondents, about 19% expect to transition to Hyper-V or Hyper-V R2 over the next 12 months. If you add Citrix XenServer, the total is nearly a quarter entertaining one of the other major platforms.

Hyper-V has shipped as part of Windows Server 2008 since mid-2008. Microsoft will release the first service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V, to become available sometime next year. The fact that the software doesn't have automated live migration, advanced fault tolerance, and memory overcommit has some users returning to VMware after test-driving Hyper-V.

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Hypervisor death match gains new urgency for top dog VMware

A future Windows Server service pack will address some of these deficiencies. But even as some shops return to the VMware fold after trying out Hyper-V, others have discovered that they don't require the most advanced features of the vSphere hypervisor, especially not at VMware's premium prices.

"A lot of Windows admins aren't using virtualization or are barely using it," said Robert McShinsky, a senior systems engineer at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. "With Hyper-V, they can test it out without having to contract with a vendor or know the underlying OS."

In 2005, Dartmouth Hitchcock began using Microsoft's Virtual Server and has been using Microsoft virtualization ever since.

Weighing the cost of ESX
One senior systems engineer at a large manufacturing company, who also does consulting work at smaller businesses, said that while vSphere is firmly entrenched in his enterprise environment, the small and medium-sized businesses with which he has consulted just don't want to spend the money on either a hypervisor or the consulting work it takes to get virtualization up and running in production.

"They're not interested in paying a VMware professional $150 an hour when they can have people put something in at $60 an hour that in six months will be much better than it is now, and in a few years will probably be every bit as good as the market leader," he said. There's more greenfield in virtualization than the hype around the technology would indicate, and VMware cannot afford to fall asleep at the wheel, he added.

Overall, VMware partners say that VMware continues to win most sales, but more careful evaluation of alternative hypervisors, especially Microsoft, has slowed the VMware sales cycle and led to greater scrutiny on vSphere's return on investment.

IT executives in large organizations say reviews of Hyper-V's ROI compared with VMware occur on a regular basis these days. Brad Blake, director of technology at Boston Medical Center, said he's been less than thrilled about licensing costs for integrating multipathing with his vSphere environment. "With Hyper-V, we still don't see the kind of management tools being developed around it that we need," Blake said. "But at some point, we're going to have to have the argument: how valuable are these management tools?"

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