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Virtualization 2012: Hyper-V 3 vs. vSphere 5 showdown looms

If Hyper-V 3 comes to market as expected by the end of this year, users say it will give VMware’s vSphere 5 a run for its money -- literally.

Microsoft’s Hyper-V has been making steady progress catching up to VMware for years, but as IT pros look ahead into 2012, they see the battle between these two virtualization vendors heating up like never before.

In one corner: VMware vSphere 5, made generally available in August, and capable of supporting up to 1 TB of RAM and 32 virtual CPUs per virtual machine (VM). Other new features include Auto Deploy, which can automatically provision hosts according to user-defined rules; overhauled High Availability (rechristened Fault Domain Manager); policy-driven storage provisioning; and Storage Distributed Resource Scheduler.

In the other corner: Microsoft Hyper-V 3.0, still at the developer preview stage. If released as planned before the end of 2012, however, it will contain several key features to bring it into closer competition with vSphere. Those features include a new extensible virtual switch (which has received Cisco’s pledge of support), true live storage migration, shared-nothing live migration, and new scalability with up to 32 virtual CPUs and 512 GB of memory -- up from a limit of 4 vCPUs and 64 GB of RAM.

VSphere 5 retains the lead in a feature-by-feature comparison, but Hyper-V 3.0 could make Microsoft’s virtualization platform “good enough” to be a strong alternative to vSphere, and VMware shops are taking notice.

“The overall feeling is that the gap on essentials between Microsoft and VMware is closing,” said Bob Swipes, senior microcomputer technical support specialist at a New York state Internet service provider. “VMware has more 'cup holders,' but is that a reason to buy? We'll see.”

“I do have to say that the forthcoming release of Hyper-V 3.0 looks really interesting, at least if it lives up to the hype,” said Christian Mohn, senior infrastructure consultant for EDB ErgoGroup in Bergen, Norway. “It might just give VMware a real run for its money in the SME market, which in turn should force VMware to be even more innovative and perhaps even do something with [its] lower tier products with regard to pricing and features.”

SCVMM 2012 a wild card
It’s not just the updated hypervisor features that are garnering new attention for Hyper-V -- it’s also the company’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2012, currently at the release candidate stage, one step before its release to manufacturing.

New features in SCVMM 2012 include new administrative roles and workflows for self-service portals, which are meant to support Infrastructure as a Service, plus automated, wizard-driven provisioning of VM, network and storage hardware.

“It looks like SCVMM 2012 is going to be a huge competitor for all the other virtualization technologies,” said Christian Metz, a systems administrator at a Fortune 300 company. The company currently runs a mix of Citrix XenServer, Hyper-V and VMware, and so the addition of XenServer support in SCVMM 2012 appeals to Metz, as well as “the fact that it’s so much cheaper to deploy, it’s simpler, the self-service portal works great.”

The next version of Hyper-V is so appealing that Metz’s firm is thinking about standardizing on it. “We’re actually…adopting Hyper-V currently under the pretext of the 2012 release, and from there, who knows?” he said. “We’ve had discussions about rolling our entire infrastructure over to Hyper-V, depending on how that first rollout goes.”

“Microsoft is doing some pretty cool things as far as orchestrating their Hyper-V environments to deploy services from the ground up,” said Bill Hill, infrastructure IT lead for a Portland-based logistics company, which currently uses vSphere. “The ability to virtualize an OS is so last year. The magic you can apply to those OSes is where the future value is.”

Shops that currently have Hyper-V deployed say they’re looking forward to the addition of new peers in 2012.

“I think 2012 is the year for Microsoft to become a serious challenger to VMware,” said Janssen Jones, associate director of IT infrastructure at Indiana University. “With System Center 2012 coming out soon, and the new features coming in Windows 8, along with VMware’s licensing changes, I believe customers are going to take a longer look at Microsoft virtualization offerings in 2012 than they may have in previous years. They may not make a full switch, but I think they’ll start bringing up a significant percentage of workloads on this platform.”

Even skeptics say Microsoft is at least doing a more aggressive job of marketing its product.

“Their marketing continues to catch up with VMware. I don’t know that their technology is catching up quite as fast,” said Mark Vaughn, an IT consultant and vExpert.

“I really hope VMware is ready for the Microsoft hype-machine,” said Mohn. “I think they're in for a real fight in the hypervisor part of the data center, and they need to take Microsoft and Hyper-V 3.0 really seriously.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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