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Virtualization product winners and losers of 2016

This was a big year for virtualization products, but that doesn’t mean all of them hit home with customers. There were some significant misses, with product limitations disappointing potential buyers before they’d even been released. That being said, those product deliveries that addressed key customer concerns and included improvements with real world applications really set the bar high for next year. Read on to see what our picks are for the virtualization product winners and losers of 2016.


With many highly publicized security breaches over just the last year, the importance of security cannot be overstated. As such, it’s no wonder VMware’s network virtualization product, NSX, comes out on top. Take its enhanced security features, including distributed firewall, edge firewall, data security, activity monitoring and flow monitoring, and add microsegmentation to the mix. That recipe alone would give NSX the win, but there have also been improvements to workflow automation. These features mean more portability and agility with reduced complexity and network operating costs.

Unfortunately for VMware, vSphere hasn’t had the same success as NSX in 2016. It’s certainly not breaking news that vSphere is losing market share, but the reason behind the shift is worth noting. With more and more organizations virtualizing their data centers and moving to the public cloud, the need for vSphere as an on-premises platform is dwindling. Recent licensing changes might also have a negative impact on adoption rates. Along those same lines, VMware dropped the ever-popular Enterprise edition from its offerings, so now if customers want Distributed Resource Scheduler, they have to shell out even more money for Enterprise Plus.


There’s been a lot of talk about Microsoft Windows Server 2016 over the last year, and with good reason. The recent release comes with improvements to Hyper-V, including the ability to hot add/remove vNIC and modify memory for running VMs, along with a new VM configuration file format, nested functionality, VM shielding, Linux Secure Boot and PowerShell Direct. Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V also comes with updated management protocol support as well as support for alternate credentials and earlier versions of Hyper-V. Some of these improvements are more behind the scenes, but the list goes on and on.

Though Windows Server 2016 is now generally available, Microsoft Azure Stack, which was released as a technical preview in January and as an updated preview in September, won’t be delivered until mid-2017. Not only is the platform still a work in progress, but when it is finally released, customers will be limited in terms of the hardware on which it’s offered. Only servers from Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo with be integrated with Azure Stack. With more time for competition to respond and limited hardware choices for customers, Azure Stack could be at the back of the pack when all is said and done.


The shift away from full desktop virtualization toward app virtualization is just one of the reasons Citrix XenApp takes the cake. Another factor to consider is that Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10, which won’t support all of the legacy applications organizations have. Even without the leg up from Windows 10 adopters, XenApp provides flexibility for administrators who want the freedom to choose what devices and apps they use. Also, the recent update to XenApp is a considerable improvement, with Microsoft integrations, multilocation management and new service options.

Enhanced features and security capabilities may bridge the technical gap between Citrix XenServer 7 and its competitors, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win for the company. Without a surrounding ecosystem and product base, customers just aren’t going to choose it over VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V, nor will they see a reason to switch from their existing hypervisor provider. Automation is a big factor for administrators to consider as well. XenServer 7 doesn’t include built-in automation capabilities, so PowerShell scripting must be used instead.

Red Hat

Sometimes simplicity is key, and if customer response is any indication, Ansible 2.0 proves it. The automation and configuration management software, which was acquired by Red Hat in October 2015, went through some back-end re-engineering to address scalability issues and improve cloud deployments, among other things. Portability across infrastructure set ups has been improved as well. What really sets Ansible 2.0 apart, though, is community involvement. The new version includes over 150 new modules. Other improvements to the software include execution modes that reduce deployment times and task blocks that ease playbook development.

Ongoing OpenStack challenges may mean trouble for Red Hat, as deployment and security are still significant stumbling blocks for users. With OpenStack adoption lagging, Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure, based on the open source platform, might follow suit. To build a customized system, companies need employees with the technical skills to do so without vendor-provided support. Also, as the technology is still a work in progress, potential risks can become serious problems, especially at a larger scale. OpenStack may provide flexibility, but as a complex architecture, it’s only fit for specific use cases. As such — for the foreseeable future anyway — it doesn’t look like it’ll become a mainstream product.