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Hyper-V R2 release: A turning point in the virtualization hypervisor war?

Can Microsoft capitalize on the release of its Hyper-V R2 virtualization hypervisor, or is VMware's lead insurmountable? It depends on whom you ask.

For the past year, market observers have pointed to Microsoft's Hyper-V R2 release as a potential turning point in the hypervisor war between Microsoft and VMware.

Well, the Hyper-V R2 release is finally upon us. And thanks to the addition of Live Migration, Cluster Shared Volumes and other new Hyper-V R2 features, Microsoft has put its virtualization hypervisor at least in the same ballpark alongside VMware ESX.

More on the Hyper-V R2 release
Microsoft releases Hyper-V R2 to manufacturing

Hyper-V R2 matches VMware with 64-processor support

Microsoft Hyper-V R2 vs. VMware at WPC 2009

Now the question is: Can Microsoft capitalize on its improved feature set, or is VMware's lead insurmountable after years of market dominance? It depends on whom you ask.

Attendees at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) this month said Microsoft will get a serious boost from advancements in Hyper-V R2, and users' familiarity with the rest of the Microsoft software and management stack will help too.

"They're finally ready to go head to head with VMware," said Alan "Skip" Gould, the CEO of Microsoft partner BrightPlanIT in Buffalo, N.Y.

Hyper-V R2 release: Only for SMBs?
Clearly, WPC was a Microsoft-friendly venue. At last week's New England VMware User Group meeting, many attendees conceded that Hyper-V R2 will attract new customers. But they said Microsoft still has a long way to go before it catches up to VMware.

"The bigger companies that have the money, they've already gone with VMware," said an executive with a Massachusetts-based VMware partner. Many have locked into multiyear volume deals on VMware.

This exec said Microsoft's real opportunity to beat VMware is among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), where complaints about VMware pricing are common. (Hyper-V R2 is free, and the free version of ESXi has limitations.)

But the problem with that market is, it will take a lot more customer wins for Microsoft to achieve the same level of success -- and revenue -- as VMware has had among larger enterprises. And SMBs will still scrutinize Hyper-V R2's performance in comparison to ESX and Citrix Systems' XenServer, this partner said.

"VMware and Citrix are much more stable," he said.

Microsoft proponents aren't expecting success solely among SMB customers, however. Gould, for example, said the support for up to 256 cores in Hyper-V R2 will be a big draw in the enterprise market.

Microsoft packaged Hyper-V R2 with Windows Server 2008 R2 and released them to manufacturing at the same time as the Windows 7 desktop operating system. All of the products will be broadly available this fall.

Why switch to Microsoft's virtualization hypervisor?
In addition, Hyper-V R2 features improved protocols designed to optimize performance when running with Windows 7. The idea is that customers upgrading to Windows 7 will also move to Hyper-V R2. Microsoft partisans say that customers already familiar with Windows conventions will be immediately comfortable with Hyper-V.

This integration will be another major selling point, said Dave Sobel, the CEO of Microsoft partner Evolve Technologies in Fairfax, Va.

"You don't have to train your staff on an entirely new management interface, so I think that gives Microsoft a real competitive edge," he said.

But VMware proponents see it the other way around when it comes to virtualization. In their view, it's VMware that has that old, familiar interface, and there's no reason to switch to Microsoft.

"We haven't even considered Microsoft, because we've already gone down the VMware road," said a New Hampshire-based network administrator. "Everybody's acclimated."

And shops that run mixed operating systems tend to look at Microsoft technology as a Windows-only technology -- something that could hurt its efforts despite the availability of a standalone Hyper-V.

Users gun shy about Hyper-V R2
Others disagree with Microsoft's strategy of releasing Hyper-V R2 at the same time as Windows 7. At WPC, there was a sense that Windows 7 and the Azure cloud platform overshadowed Hyper-V R2 at a time when the new hypervisor needed a strong marketing push.

The president of a Maine-based VMware partner said the days when businesses would buy any new Microsoft product are over, thanks to recent failures like Windows Vista.

"Once Microsoft turns up its marketing, I'm sure you'll hear more about [Hyper-V]," this partner said. "But for now, people are gun shy."

Microsoft released Hyper-V R2 to manufacturing on July 22 and will begin rolling it out to partners on Wednesday. Customers should be able to receive the release by Aug. 14.

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