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Standardized virtualization environments preferred, survey says

A recent survey indicates that respondents want to standardize virtualization environments on one hypervisor, but VMware's high cost and growing cloud use may force heterogeneity.

The first part of this article on TechTarget's "Virtualization Decisions 2009 Purchasing Intentions Survey" focused on the server virtualization market and how to select the right virtualization software vendor for your organization.

In this second part, we'll explore the pros and cons of running multiple vendors' platforms in your virtualization environment and review the virtual appliance and cloud computing markets.

Virtualization environments: To mix or not to mix?
If you have some combination of Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Solaris and Oracle in your data center and you follow our virtualization selection recommendations, your environment will support multiple virtualization software platforms. Each platform has its own set of virtualization management tools, which creates licensing and maintenance complexity.

The survey results indicate that 55.8% of respondents want to standardize on a single x86-based hypervisor if possible. This data aligns closely with the results of a winter 2009 study by The Info Pro, in which 54% of respondents said they do not want to use multiple x86 virtualization approaches. But 54% of respondents said they would use multiple approaches to get the required performance and support.

Realistically, you need at least two or three for high-performance production applications and timely support for guest operating systems when issues arise.

But if you want to standardize on one virtualization platform, VMware stands out as the only solution that is suitable, according to The Info Pro study. IT managers believe in VMware because it dominates the virtualization platform market.

Market-by-market breakdown
There are multiple virtualization software markets: server virtualization, cloud computing, virtual appliances and so on. Microsoft and VMware have the markets for server virtualization and internal cloud computing, but where are the markets for Citrix Systems, Oracle, Red Hat and other open source virtualization software vendors for public clouds and virtual appliances? To decide which virtualization platform vendors to go with in a specific market, you should focus on the size of their installed bases.

VMware has by far the most virtualization software customers, and Windows is the platform most likely to be virtualized, so Microsoft and VMware should continue to dominate the server virtualization market. For the same reasons, they will do very well in the internal cloud market. When it comes to virtual appliances, IDC indicates that by 2012 Linux and other open source virtualization platforms -- free and paid -- will begin to dominate, thanks to Microsoft's lack of interest in appliances and the low cost of open source software.

No virtualization software platform or vendor has emerged as the de facto platform for cloud computing. Neither open source nor commercial virtualization platforms provide a complete solution for cloud providers, leaving them with a lot of development and integration to do. Cloud providers that want to get up and running have to balance go-to-market time, features and support with the cost of licensing fees. Commercial vendors generally allow cloud providers to get to the market quicker, but sometimes providers have to pay stiff licensing fees, whereas open source Xen is free. Many cloud providers use open source Xen as their virtualization backbone, but they are increasingly considering XenServer and other commercial versions.

XenServer offers management tools, such as XenCenter, which are not free but are generally unavailable with open source Xen. And if they were provided with open source Xen, they would involve the burden of writing code.

Tom Bittman, a Gartner vice president, says cloud platform providers don't want to write their own software using Xen. They want to buy software, especially management software, and that is where Citrix and Oracle can be players. He says that for VMware to be a significant player, it would have to significantly reduce the price of its virtualization offerings. And Windows will not be a prominent player in public clouds, because cloud providers don't care what the operating system is; all they care about is which services are provided.

We should expect to see more cloud providers and fewer operating systems, according to Bittman. He expects the few general cloud platforms of today to fragment into many specialty cloud providers, with applications and infrastructures that cater to specific industries or technologies with specific compliance requirements.

Dan Cameron, the lab director at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., agrees. He says that his data center will likely use several cloud providers, many of them niche providers, in addition to one or more large providers, such as Amazon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry and a decade of expertise in Linux and open source technologies. From 1999 to 2004, Claybrook was the research director for Linux and open source at Aberdeen Group. He is now the president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass., and holds a Ph.D. in computer science.

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